Chapter Five: Curing Creation: Alchemy and Spirituality

'Qui scit in aurum convertere aliud metallum sive cum lucro, sive sine lucro, januam habet apertam in Naturam' ('Whoever knows how to transmute another metal into gold, whether with profit or without, has an open gateway into Nature') - Michael Sendivogius, cited by Heinrich Appelius, letter to Hartlib, 26 August 1647, HP 45/1/34B.

'Ora et Labora': 'Pray and Labour'

The four and a half years following the collapse of the grand design for a pansophic reformation feature a striking gap in Moriaen's surviving correspondence with Hartlib and his associates. Between late 1642 and May 1647, only four letters from him are to be found among Hartlib's papers, in contrast with seventy-seven from the previous four years. This could simply be due to the loss of material from the archive.[1] However, he also disappears almost entirely from the letters of Hartlib's other correspondents.[2] It seems likely, therefore, that this gap does indeed reflect a period of estrangement, or at any rate a cooling of relations, in the wake of the pansophic debacle and Moriaen's rather bitter reaction. If so, however, the rift must have been healed by early 1647, and the two remained thenceforth in close contact until Hartlib's death in 1662.

Moriaen, who at the end of the 1630s awaited nothing with more excited anticipation than what he generally referred to as Comenius's 'Metaphysica', i.e. the prospective Janua rerum, appears in a markedly different guise in the letters of 1647 on. He could write by 10 February 1648: 'I used, indeed, to be a great lover and defender of metaphysics and metaphysicians, but then when I turned to real and useful knowledge, useless speculations became noisome to me'.[3]

The concept of 'useful knowledge' was discussed in the previous chapter. The whole point of Comenian metaphysics had been, of course, that it should be utterly distinct from what was seen as the empty semantics of the scholastic variety, from what Bacon described as the Schoolmen's 'monstrous disputations and barking questions',[4] and should deal not with ideas or words but with 'things'. As Comenius put it, 'it does not matter which language we speak (whether rude or cultured), since we are all nought but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals so long as words not things (I mean the husks of words, not the kernels of meanings) be in our mouths'.[5] There is an element of deliberate oxymoron in referring to a 'Janua rerum' as a 'metaphysics'. There is also a deliberate ambiguity in the title, literally 'The Gate of Things': is the book the gateway to things, or are the things themselves the gateway? Both senses are intended. 'Metaphysics', the realm beyond the physical, was to be attained not by abstraction, not by bypassing the physical, but on the contrary <152> through the physical, through a detailed practical study of nature.

But here, I believe, Moriaen expresses a loss of faith even in Comenius's reformed, pansophic concept of metaphysics, which, whatever its claims, remained in the event bogged down in verbal formulations. He begins to sound a good deal less like Comenius, and a good deal more like Hartlib's new friend Robert Boyle, with his enthusiasm for the new 'philosophical college' in London that 'values no knowledge, but as it hath a tendency to use'.[6] Previously, the 'use' of knowledge had been seen primarily as its relevance to personal morality and social ethics. Here, though that dimension has by no means disappeared, the term becomes something closer to 'application', in the sense of the modern term 'applied science'.

This is not to suggest that there was a sudden sea-change in Moriaen's outlook at some point between 1642 and 1647, that he went to bed one night a mystic Pansophist and woke up a rational empiricist. On the contrary, what seems on the face of it a complete change of tack in the subject matter of the correspondence proves on closer analysis to be a logical development: a change of emphasis rather than a volte face. Though the letters written after this hiatus in the 1640s deal primarily in practical experiments and technological innovations, whereas those before are mainly given over to the pansophical scheme and the dissemination of knowledge and understanding through the medium of the written word, the ethos underlying them is the same.

Moreover, though there is next to nothing about the subject of natural philosophy in the earlier letters to Hartlib, it is evident from the handful of letters to Van Assche preserved in Amsterdam that Moriaen was a practising alchemist and iatrochemist at least as early as 1634, i.e. during his second spell in Cologne. A letter of 8 March 1634 is largely given over to describing chemical preparations, mostly of a medicinal nature.[7] It is a salutary warning not to draw over-confident inferences from fragmentary documentation.

A possible reason for the change of emphasis in the Moriaen-Hartlib correspondence is that it was Hartlib, rather than Moriaen, who had turned more whole-heartedly to experimental philosophy during this period. Having declared his own disillusion with metaphysics, Moriaen went on to add, 'it is no wonder you [Hartlib] have fallen in love with experimental and mechanical philosophy'.[8] Though Hartlib too had certainly been interested in 'realia', and particularly in chemical and physical experiments, throughout his life, the Ephemerides distinctly chart a personal history in which over the years such subjects increasingly occupied his mind, at the expense of more abstruse metaphysical and theological speculations. Though the religious motivation underlying all his actions and studies remained the driving force, detailed experimental investigation of the 'creatures', the 'Book of God's Works', gradually ousted the exegetical and doctrinal interest in the 'Book of God's Word'. Such a development cannot be demonstrated by isolated examples out of context, and can be fully appreciated only if one reads through the whole of the Ephemerides in sequence. But two admittedly extreme cases from near the opposite chronological ends of the diaries may serve to illustrate the trend. There is nothing from the latter years remotely like this of 1639 under the heading 'MS Theologica':

A Question Answered by Mr Gawdin to my Lady Barrington, whether the <153> Essence or Being of all created things purely considered and only substantially as metaphisically abstract and separat from accidental qualityes and mutable formes (which being is in everything real true and one and while it is in being most necessary to bee) whether I say this pure and precise being bee of the very essence or Being of God etc.[9]

Nor is there, conversely, anything in the early years to compare with the report in 1656 of John Rushworth's 'optical undertakings in my dining roome to know all what is done at Charing Crosse or in the Strand by meanes of the Chimney with some extraordinary cost'.[10] (I take this to mean that Rushworth was trying to install a sort of giant periscope in Hartlib's dining room chimney.)

The branch of experimental learning that came increasingly to dominate Hartlib's interest from the late 1640s on was chemistry - or, rather, what Allen G. Debus has dubbed 'the Chemical Philosophy'.[11] For chemistry, or alchemy, rarely depicted itself at this period as a mere branch of knowledge: it was, rather, a means of understanding and regaining dominion over the very fabric of Creation. Debus aptly describes its goal as finding 'the key to a truly Christian interpretation of nature.'[12] But, it will be argued, the alchemical quest aimed at more than just understanding: the purpose of that understanding was control and manipulation. Its aims were no less ambitious than, and in many respects strikingly similar to, those of Pansophy, though its means were very different.[13] Comenius, it seemed to many of his original supporters, remained mired in didactics and declined into an increasingly crotchety and belligerently eccentric old age. He fell out with one collaborator after another, exasperating his patrons Louis and Laurens de Geer (the son of Louis, who was at first more than happy to inherit his father's commitment to support Comenius) and even his closest and most loyal supporters.[14] Figulus, for instance, more in sorrow than in anger, wrote to Hartlib in 1658 that 'My Father in Law is likewise withering & decaying […] I beginne to feare our Pansophia, shall neuer come to perfection',[15] and that

his vehement desire, of the wished for Change of all things, to see the Antichrist fall, & Christ in his Kingdome triumphing & reigning ouer the whole world, cannot permitt his Spirit to bee qviete: & likewise for his Pansophica & the like labours, which lye upon his [sic] dayly. I beleeue, in well considering his nature, & his age also, these things are irremediable, & there will bee no helpe for him, but hee thus must bring his bones into the graue.[16]

Hartlib was only one of many in the circle who turned increasingly to the chemical philosophy to supply the universal reformation and enlightenment that had so fervently been expected from Comenius's labours.

It is no longer possible for any serious historian of science to dismiss alchemy and its elaborate symbolic jargon as charlatanism, superstition or plain daftness, of no relevance to modern scholarship except as a reminder of the quaint and exotic misconceptions of our forebears. This is, however, an attitude that remains prevalent among those without a specialist interest in the field. The latest edition of Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary still defines alchemy as 'the infant stage of chemistry' and describes its principal goal as transmutation of metals, with no mention of the medical and spiritualistic aspects of the discipline.


Glauber's biographer K.F. Gugel was, however, overreacting (with understandable defensiveness) to such preconceptions when he declared in 1955 that 'The convoluted symbolic language [of alchemy] was just as comprehensible to the chemists of his day as modern formulae are to us now'.[17] Hermetic writing was certainly not incomprehensible to the initiated, but its elucidation depended on a combination of skills far more diverse than would be expected of a twentieth-century research specialist in any field. It demanded great practical experience, extensive familiarity with a vast range of rare literature, and in many cases access to a particular key obtainable only through personal contact with the author or his friends. It also demanded highly advanced reading skills of a type regarded nowadays as far more the province of the literary scholar. Symbol, metaphor and often very heavily veiled allusion, not to mention deliberate red herrings and self-proclaimed self-contradictions, were the stock-in-trade of these authors.

The impression of impenetrability and daunting erudition is as calculated and deliberate as in Pound or Joyce. Here, for instance, is George Starkey on transmutation, speaking 'not […] one word doubtfully or mystically':

In this our work, our Diana is our body when it is mixed with the water, for then all is called the Moon, for Laton is whitened, and the Woman beares rule, our Diana hath a wood, for in the first dayes of the Stone, our body after it is whitened grows vegitably. In this wood, are at the last found two Doves, for about the end of three weeks, the soul of the Mercury ascends, with the soul of the disolved Gold, these are infolded in the everlasting armes of Venus, for in this season the confection are all tincted with a pure green colour, these Doves are circulated seven times, for in seven is perfection, and then they are left dead, for they then rise and move no more, our Body is then black like to a Crowes bill.[18]

By the standards of the day this is in fact relatively clear. William Newman, in his recent study of Starkey,[19] brilliantly elucidates this and a number of similar passages by relating them to Starkey's other works, to the broader alchemical tradition, and to practical experimental detail that would have been attainable by an 'adept' of the day. Only a nodding acquaintance with alchemical symbolism is needed to identify 'Diana' (or 'the Moon') as silver, the 'water' as mercury and 'Venus' as copper. The 'souls' of the mercury and gold cannot be translated into modern chemical terminology since they are supposed extracts or 'essences' of what are now regarded as elementary substances. The more crucial details, however, are hidden very deep indeed, and it would be equally misguided to suppose that such writing was readily (if at all) accessible even to the best-qualified experts of the day. The 'doves of Diana' were a common alchemical trope, but Clodius, who was no novice in such matters, confessed to not understanding it: 'Quid sint Columbæ Dianæ [what may the doves of Diana be]? which yet Mr Clodius is to seek out for the perfecting himself in the understanding of this mystery'.[20]

Great strides have been made by the likes of Newman in interpreting the real experimental details concealed behind such passages. Although there certainly were a good many frauds and hoaxers of the stamp of Subtle in Jonson's The Alchemist, the more serious writers often possessed immense practical expertise, and - especially in their private correspondence - were <155> genuinely and successfully trying to communicate it. They were not, however, trying to communicate it to everyone. On the contrary, most alchemists were at considerable pains to make their work as difficult as possible to understand. The reasons for such obscurantism were various, and while self-interest may often have been at least part of the motivation, it was by no means always the whole of it.

It was a commonplace that arcana were to be revealed, if at all, only in veiled, symbolic terms, to ensure that the mysteries disclosed would be accessible only to those who had proved themselves worthy through years of diligent and unprofitable study. Even at the time, of course, this left every writer open to the countercharge that his (or, in rare cases, her) veiled symbolism in fact concealed not profound knowledge but vacuity or lies. The symbolism developed to express alchemical theory was extremely intricate, and furthermore, to make life especially difficult for the later student, there was very little attempt made to standardise it. A measure of agreement was established, and remains discernible today, on the symbolic nomenclature applied to some of the more basic substances. But when it came to finer detail, writers were prone to launch into a private or esoteric symbolism that was accessible only to those with access through personal contact or the still-thriving oral tradition to the intentions behind an often self-consciously literary façade.

In attempting to interpret alchemical recipes in terms of their reception at the time, we are faced with a dual task. On the one hand, there is the question of what the author intended to convey to those capable of understanding him. On the other, there is the question of what those who took him seriously but were not in fact fully capable of comprehending him did actually understand. It is not the purpose of this study to deduce the literal experimental details concealed by such allegories: that is a labour I am happy to leave to those better qualified to accomplish it. My concern here is rather with the ways in which such writing was understood and acted on by practising alchemists such as Moriaen and others of the Hartlib circle, who were less gifted and expert than Starkey, but by no means ignorant or uninformed, and whose lives were profoundly affected by their response to alchemical texts, however skewed and partial their understanding of them may often have been.

Charles Webster points out that 'to anyone immersed in decoding and unifying the symbolism of the Books of Daniel and Revelation, the hermetic literature would not offer insurmountable problems.'[21] This analogy with Scriptural exegesis is very apposite, but it should also be pointed out that while there was no shortage of people confident of their ability to decode Daniel and Revelation, the results of such decoding were spectacularly diverse. The same applies to the interpreters of hermetic writing. As Newman himself (whose remarkable work is by no means confined to literal elucidation) repeatedly stresses, the material products of the alchemist's laboratory were always considered less important than, and were interpreted within the context of, a broader religious and spiritual world-view. My subject here is the insight provided by the published writings and - far more - the private correspondence of such figures into the mental world they inhabited.

The notion of a distinctive scientific discourse, clearly differentiated from literary or religious writing and characterised by objectivity, clarity and <156> accessibility (at least to those with the requisite training) was a new one, and was actively opposed by many thinkers, among them some of Hartlib's most cherished associates. Such opposition was not merely a case of old habits dying hard, or a bid to protect vested interests. It was in many cases both those things, but it was also and more fundamentally a defence of an entire religious and philosophical outlook, a whole way of making sense of life itself. The development of such a distinctive discourse was in itself symptomatic of the 'parcelling and tearing of learning into peeces' to which Comenius so vehemently objected.[22] The conflict between respect for the hermetic seal of the obscurantists and the promotion of a more open and literal discourse forms a recurrent theme in the remaining chapters of this study.

That said, it would be simplistic to suggest that there existed a clear demarcation between the two camps, or that such a distinction was consciously formulated either by writers or readers at the time. Of the figures associated with Hartlib, Starkey might perhaps be seen as the most committed and gifted representative of the obscurantist tendency, while Robert Boyle is still celebrated as a pioneer of a more objective, accessible and (in the modern sense) 'enlightened' scientific discourse, and at least in his youth openly championed the ideal of a 'free and generous communication of secrets'.[23] Yet Starkey and Boyle were, for a time at least, friends and collaborators, and undoubtedly respected one another's knowledge and insight. And as Lawrence Principe has pointed out, there were strict limits to Boyle's communicativeness, particularly with regard to alchemical arcana.[24] This is a question not of binary opposites, but of a broad spectrum with no clearly defined divisions. The observations of less exceptional students of alchemy, such as Moriaen, Heinrich Appelius, Benjamin Worsley and Cheney Culpeper, are of value precisely because they themselves had no clearly formulated notion of such a spectrum, let alone any definite idea of their own location within it.

Especially since Paracelsus, the notion of a medicinal and a spiritual aspect of alchemy was quite as important as the physical manipulation and transformation of created matter, the mere party trick of turning things into gold. Paracelsus himself had defined alchemy as nothing else but 'a preparer of medicine' ('eine bereiterin der arznei').[25] Johann Hiskius Cardilucius, in the introduction to his alchemical anthology Magnalia Medico-Chymica (1676) observed that 'alchemy is mocked and despised only by the ignorant, who do not know what it is, but think it no more than befooling oneself to make gold and silver': its true purpose, however, was to master the preparation of all created matter 'in most noble fashion, that you might be able most gently and lovingly to relieve any sick man of his ailments in a few hours'.[26] Alchemy could be seen in the broadest sense - analogically as well as literally - as a medical discipline. It was not limited to providing specific remedies for given illnesses, nor even to providing a panacea for all human ailments: it set out to cure matter itself and the human soul from the corruption that had entered it after the Fall.

Some of the claims made for the art seem staggeringly audacious. Death itself, some claimed, while remaining ultimately inevitable, could be dramatically postponed by the elixir of life.[27] The mythical Rosicrucian brotherhood supposedly spent most of their time curing the sick, without charge, through their alchemical prowess, and Christian Rosenkreuz himself was allegedly one hundred and six years old when when he died in 1484 or 1485.[28] They too despised transmutation for transmutation's sake,


as though a man should be most dear to God merely because he can make great masses and lumps of gold […] but we declare openly that this is false, and to true philosophers the matter stands thus: that making gold is to them a paltry matter and a parergon, than which they have many thousand greater works'.[29]

Though it may well be the case that the author(s) of the Fama and Confessio did not intend to be taken literally, there is absolutely no doubt that a great many people did take the works both literally and seriously.

Cardilucius stated entirely earnestly that Paracelsus had been an undoubted possessor of the elixir, and that his death at the unremarkable age of forty-seven was only due to the counter-effects of alcohol, to which the magus was notoriously given.[30] A strikingly similar account was given of the death of Starkey (another heavy drinker) in 1665. Whatever his ethical shortcomings, Starkey engaged that year in a genuinely heroic if totally misguided mission to preserve the populace of London from the plague by visiting victims and administering an infallible cure, the principal ingredient of which was powdered toad. Predictably enough, despite his powdered toad, he succumbed to the disease himself; but according to his friend and fellow iatrochemist George Thomson, Starkey's 'archeus', the inner principle that reacts to combat malign influences on the human organism, had been irredeemably weakened, partly by a depression induced by the slanders of Galenic physicians, but principally by the fact that on the day he contracted the disease Starkey had (by his own confession) consumed an 'unreasonable quantity of small beer'.[31]

Starkey's death provides a good illustration of the tragi-comic divide between the aspirations and the achievements of medical alchemists. Seventeenth-century chemical medicine is often spoken of by modern scholars as 'progressive', at least in comparison to the practices of the more 'traditional' Galenists. However, while it was certainly more innovative, there is no evidence at all that it was any more effective. The hundreds of iatrochemical recipes preserved in the Hartlib archive are apt to leave a modern reader uncertain whether to laugh or to vomit. To be sure, there is no lack of unsolicited testimonials from satisfied patients of the efficacy of chemical medicines. However, without doubting the sincerity of such depositions, one may well question their objective truth. They often say more about the faith (or hope) of the patients than about the actual effect of the treatment. Improvements in health tend to be ascribed to the effects of the medicine, while downturns are interpreted as occurring in spite of it. It is also very likely that - in the short term at least - many of the less noxious preparations had a genuine but purely psychosomatic beneficial effect. That said, the naivety of seventeenth-century patients should not be exaggerated: they were as aware as their twentieth-century counterparts of dangerous side-effects. Hartlib's ascription of his final agony to a medicine sent through Moriaen has already been cited. The report in the 1635 Ephemerides of a 'most extra-ordinary-singular and approued Remedy against the stone' concludes, with possibly intentional irony, 'And one of the best property [sic] it hase [is] that if it does no good it will doe no harme'.[32]

But however misguided the attempts of medical alchemists to apply their learning for the relief and benefit of their neighbours may often have been in <158> practical terms, the ethical and spiritual dimension must not be underrated in an account of their art. This emphasis on the medical aspect of alchemy is abundantly reflected in Hartlib's correspondence and publications. The Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses juxtapose a 'Conference concerning the Phylosopher's Stone' with an equally open-ended discussion as to whether there is such a thing as a panacea;[33] and Starkey's deliberately impenetrable 'exegesis' of George Ripley's account of transmutation with an advertisement for the 'Chyrurgical Balsams' of Moriaen's former assistant Remeus Franck. To Hartlib and his prospective readership there was evidently no incongruity. The vast majority of alchemical reports and recipes preserved in Hartlib's papers at least touch on, if they are not primarily concerned with, medicinal applications of the processes described.

The prospect of unlimited access to wealth doubtless had its attractions, and could be reassuringly rationalised - as in the case of any presumptively profitable enterprise - by the thought that such wealth would be devoted to pious ends. But the idea of profit for profit's sake incurred passionate opprobrium, in this discipline more than any other except perhaps doctrinal polemic: one is reminded of Protestant outrage at the venality of Papists who sought monetary gain through the marketing of masses, dispensations and absolutions. And in both cases, venality of purpose was seen as proof in itself of fraudulence. In German, the word 'Goldmacher' ('goldmaker') became a widely-used term of abuse directed by serious alchemists at those who envisaged nothing beyond personal material profit. One of Moriaen's sternest criticisms of Glauber was his mercenary streak: 'Another thing I dislike about Glauber is that he seeks to communicate such rare secrets to persons of rank, for they commonly abuse such precious things for their lust and greed'.[34] To sell genuine arcana to Epicure Mammon was an even greater sin than to sell him false ones.

The idea of an unprofitable transmutation, proving the adept's prowess and the possibility of the thing while remaining free of the taint of material greed, became something of an alchemical topos.[35] According to the 1649 Ephemerides, 'Mr Boyle hath a Recipe how to turne iron into gold but there is nothing to bee gotten by it. Yet it is worth the best consideration in reference to the Experiment of Iron and Antimony discovered in Mr Boyle's Letter'.[36] Gabriel Plattes' Discovery of Subterraneall Treasure (London, 1639) included a whole chapter (chapter nine) 'Wherein is shewed, how true and perfect gold may bee made by Art with losse to the workman'. 'If any one doubt the truth of Alchimy,' Plattes suggested, 'he may be satisfied by this triall; but instead of gaine he shall pay for his learning, by going away with losse'.[37] Glauber made the same claim in Miraculi mundi continuatio (1656), and again in De medicina universali (1657), a point Moriaen thought it worth drawing to Hartlib's attention:

In this treatise [De medicina universali], he claims that his aurum potabile transmutes or develops not only mercury but all other metals into true gold, but without profit, and so of no value except to prove the truth and possibility of the thing, and to confirm this medicine as universal.[38]

Gold was significant not for its monetary worth, but as the most exalted and incorruptible substance on earth, the substance supplied abundantly by <159> God in Havilah, just outside Eden,[39] but which had since become so scarce. The human being who could raise another substance to this sublime state, even if the costs of the operation were so high as to entail a net loss to the transmuter in merely financial terms, appeared regenerate in the form God originally intended, having dominion over all the earth.

The faith invested by the alchemists in the lore of their subject was scarcely if at all less than their faith in Scripture. A striking illustration of this occurs in one of Poleman's numerous diatribes against Glauber. Informing Hartlib that he had no intention of visiting Glauber's laboratory and inspecting his 'conjuring tricks' ('gauckelspiel'), he explicitly compared the latter's wilful perversions of alchemical wisdom with heretical misinterpretations of Holy Scripture:

I have ever and always greatly disliked his books, to the point of feeling utterly nauseated by them, and I can scarcely read a paragraph therein without conceiving a just wrath against the perverted man, so stubbornly and speciously does he twist and trammel the writings of the wise, far more than the most vicious and pernicious heretics distort Holy Scripture: and this wicked man misleads the innocent and ignorant onto such hideously false paths that they shall never find their way to the truth on them. How could I in conscience visit so wilful a cheat?[40]

As with Scripture, there was scope for endless dispute as to how to interpret the canonical texts and indeed as to what constituted the canon, but the conviction was equally profound in both cases that what the true canon said, once properly established and interpreted, was incontrovertible truth.

Enlightenment was to be sought by the twofold route of practical experiment and personal divine revelation. This parallels the twin emphasis of such inspirational Protestant theologians as Boehme on the practical expression of faith through works (which is not to be confused with justification by works) and a personal relationship with God. The classic emblem of this is the plate at the end of Heinrich Khunrath's Amphitheatrum sapientiæ æternæ (Hanover, 1609), showing an adept kneeling at prayer before an altar in his laboratory, surrounded at once by the apparatus of religion and that of practical experiment. 'Laboratorium' and 'oratorium', laboratory and house of prayer, were one. There was no question, for the 'chemical philosophers', of choosing between divine and experimental revelation: they amounted to the same thing.

Chemistry versus Alchemy?

The alchemical fraudster is a stock figure of medieval and early modern European literature, but it is often unclear whether the works in question represent a rejection of the very notion of alchemy or merely a warning to distinguish the true adept from the false. Chaucer parodied such charlatans in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, a cautionary fable reproduced in Elias Ashmole's alchemical verse anthology Theatrum chemicum britannicum (1652),[41] not because Ashmole mistook it for a genuine alchemical tract, but as a warning against false adepts. The classic example in English is Jonson's The <160> Alchemist. Sebastian Franck's Ship of Fools (Narrenschiff) has a place of honour for 'the great dunghill of alchemy' ('das große Bschiß der Alchimey'), and Donne in Ignatius his Conclave gives a hilarious account of Paracelsus arguing his higher claim over Copernicus and Machiavelli to a seat at the right hand of Satan for services to the detriment of mankind (all three are beaten hands down by Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits). Donne has a great deal of fun with the Paracelsian doctrine that like cures like, i.e. that the remedy of a disease is to be sought in the source of that disease, and that noxious substances, suitably treated by the alchemist's art, thus become medicines. He has Paracelsus boast that

whereas almost all poysons are so disposed and conditioned by nature, that they offend some of the senses, and so are easily discerned and avoided, I brought it to passe, that that treacherous quality of theirs might bee removed, and so they might safely bee given without suspicion, and yet performe their office as strongly.[42]

Hartlib's death at the hands of Moriaen's well-meaning friend Kreußner shows just how pertinent Donne's satire was.

Chemical practitioners of the seventeenth century were keenly aware of such charges and repeatedly defended themselves against them. The denunciation of dupes and charlatans is a major theme in the works of almost every serious writer on the subject. For one thing, there was the fear of being tarred with the same brush; for another, there was a strong incentive for the alchemist in search of patronage to cast aspersions on the probity of other aspirants to the same funding.[43]

Plattes 'Caveat for Alchemists' in the Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses is a catalogue of alchemical confidence tricks, aimed not at discrediting alchemy itself but at sparing serious would-be adepts the time and expense of learning to recognise cheats the hard way. In it, Plattes approvingly, if rather vaguely, cites the Canon's Yeoman's Tale. 'This Cheat is described in old Chawcer, in his Canterbury Tale,' observes Plattes, and having summarised the story concludes by saying that the dupe 'was earnest with the cheater to teach him his Art, but what bargain they made I have forgotten, for it is twenty years since I read Chawcers book'.[44] Far from rejecting the philosophy itself, however, Plattes announced at the end of the tract that he had petitioned Parliament 'that I may demonstrate my ability to do the Common-wealth of England some service' by reforming husbandry and medicine

and lastly, to shew the Art of the transmutation of Mettals, if I may have a Laboratory, like to that in the City of Venice, where they are sure of secrecy, by reason that no man is suffered to enter in, unless he can be contented to remain there, being surely provided for, till he be brought forth to go to the Church to be buried.[45]

He had presumably concluded that, with further refinement, the loss-making method of transmutation described in his Discovery of Subterraneall Treasure could be rendered profitable. He also asserted this possibility, emphasising the potential benefits to the State as a whole, in his Utopian tract Macaria <161> (1641). In this, the 'Traveller' who describes the ideal kingdom lends his interlocutor, the 'Scholar', a 'booke of Husbandry' designed to show how Macarian perfection might be attainable in England. The 'Scholar' is particularly impressed by the fact that in this book,

you shew the transmutation of sublunary bodies, in such manner, that any man may be rich that will be industrious; you shew also, how great cities, which formerly devoured the fatnesse of the Kingdome, may yearely make a considerable retribution without any mans prejudice, and your demonstrations are infallible: this booke will certainly be highly accepted by the high Court of Parliament […] with all my seven Liberall Arts I cannot discover, how any businesse can bee of more weight than this, wherein the publike good is so greatly furthered.[46]

There is no record of Plattes' having in fact made an alchemical petition to Parliament, and Hartlib later told Winthrop that 'Platts never made any demonstration befor the Parliament of the possibility of the Lapis for ought I know'.[47] But this probably reflects lack of opportunity rather than lack of will.

Moriaen offered a simpler and more general rule of thumb for detecting alchemical fraudsters: anyone selling his secrets for money was manifestly a charlatan, since if his methods were genuine, his ability to produce precious metal would make money a matter of complete indifference. There was, however, a handy get-out clause: 'But if he seeks a collaborator and cannot set the work on foot alone, that man gives him enough who lets him work at his expense'.[48] Alchemical expense accounts were seldom modest.

Contracts relating to alchemical funding fall into at least two distinct categories. In the one case the 'adept' simply sold his secret to a wealthier but less enlightened patron. More often, however, potential patrons were themselves practising alchemists, and in such instances the proposals tended to be cast rather in terms of research agreements than plain trafficking in information, and the question of finance, while remaining crucial, became rather less blatant. One such document is a letter from the chemist Friedrich Kretschmar[49] to Hartlib, Clodius, Dury and a fourth whose name has been carefully obliterated from the manuscript. I agree with Turnbull's conjectural reading of Brereton.[50]

The gist of the proposed deal was as follows. Having been shamelessly betrayed and abandoned by his previous associate, Hartprecht (who, however, did not have the wisdom to use his ill-gotten knowledge correctly), Kretschmar had been left stranded and destitute, barely able to support his laboratory and his large family. However, his desperate entreaties to God had been rewarded with the discovery of a method of extracting a grain of gold from an (unspecified) quantity of silver which, repeated often enough, would eventually transmute all the metal. After a couple of pages of pious outbursts about this, he abruptly came to the point by proposing a very businesslike contract in five numbered clauses. In return for a full revelation both of the materials involved in the process and the method of effecting it, Hartlib and his friends would undertake 1) to provide £600, either themselves or from a sponsor 'whom they deem worthy of this truth' ('den sie dieser warheit wehrt achten'), 2) never to impart the knowledge to unworthy people, <162> 3) never to set it down clearly and precisely ('klar und deutlich') on paper, 4) to inform Kretschmar (or his heirs should he be dead) of any refinement or development of the process they might subsequently discover, and 5) to sell on his behalf, for a small commission, a large quantity of a cure for the plague he had just prepared.

The document is a treasure-trove of alchemical clichés. Such agreements to pool knowledge were forever ending with one side or both claiming to have been swindled by the other, as Kretschmar said he had been by Hartprecht. And it was rarely that anyone claimed to have found the Stone itself: what was normally offered, as here, was a first step in the right direction, not yet profitable enough to cover its own costs but pointing towards great future achievements.[51] Still more typical is the aura of intense piety and secrecy and the insistence on keeping the mystery hidden from those who might use it for improper purposes. Kretschmar was most insistent Hartlib should show the letter to no-one but the other three addressees, a stipulation Hartlib characteristically broke. Clause 3 (never to set down the details) is the standard undertaking that so bedevils modern attempts at reconstructing the real chemical processes involved in such undertakings. This was a sales pitch which at once enhanced the value of the goods on offer and flattered the proposed recipients, who had been specially selected as fit trustees of the arcanum - which is not necessarily to say that the effect was mere calculation. Kretschmar's most successful piece of audience-targeting was an extra promise to reveal a new medicine based on the same materials which he was certain would cure bladder stones. Hartlib was already taking one of Kretschmar's remedies for the stone, and told Boyle it 'is certainly most excellent, and absolutely the best that ever I have used'.[52] The passage relating to this new cure has been underlined in a different ink, probably by Hartlib himself.

The business sense tempering the mysticism in this proposal is at least matched in the witheringly sarcastic reply to it composed by Clodius.[53] He demanded statistics: exactly how much gold was yielded by a given quantity of silver; was it 'common' or 'expensively prepared' silver (note how readily the term was accepted as having a number of distinct meanings); how much did it cost to reconstitute the left-over silver after the gold had been extracted? And who would bear the costs should any of the plague medicine fail to sell? Perhaps the most striking feature of the letter is that for all his wariness and scepticism, Clodius did not for a moment seem to doubt that Kretschmar really had produced gold. Indeed, he affected not to be particularly impressed by the fact. 'For, Sir, we are not so ignorant here that we could not produce a little gold from an ounce [of silver], but either the process does not cover its own costs or it does not work in bulk'.[54] He could himself by such a method offer a fair return on a £100 investment, but '[I] assure you we are convinced that your way must be very profitable since you ask six hundred pounds for it'.[55]

More damning still was the judgment of Joachim Poleman. Despite all Kretschmar's strict injunctions to secrecy, Hartlib had obviously sent a copy of the proposal to Poleman, who in several letters over the following few months spoke contemptuously of Kretschmar as the archetypal false alchemist, accusing him of having bought his goldmaking conjury ('goltmacherische taschenspielereÿ') from the arch-deceiver ('Haubt- <163> betruger') Glauber[56] and warning Hartlib against 'the sweet hissing of such a cunning serpent'.[57] Not that Poleman, any more than Plattes, disbelieved in alchemy itself, of which he too was an ardent practitioner. His contempt - which he expressed frequently and vitriolically - was for charlatans such as Kretschmar and Glauber, whose conjuring tricks redounded 'to the great discredit of that more than kingly art, true Chymia'.[58]

The standard strategy of the defenders of 'true Chymia' was to distinguish not between chemistry and alchemy, but between the true philosopher and the false, both of whom might go under the name of either chemist or alchemist. There is a need for a detailed philological study of the usage of the words 'alchemy' and 'chemistry' (or 'chymia') and their derivatives, with a view to establishing what difference there was between their usages, and how those usages developed and altered.[59] Etymologically, the two words amount to the same thing. The precise origin of the term is disputed, but the derivation in both cases is from the Greek chymia and/or chemeia: the 'al' in 'alchemy' is merely the Arabic definite article, reflecting the fact that the art reached Western Europe from Greece by way of North Africa, where the Arabs were its principal practitioners in the Middle Ages. In most European languages, 'alchemy' is the older form: the 'al' began to be dropped in the sixteenth century by humanist scholars who recognised and were repelled by such linguistic bastardy.[60] Initially, the choice of term seems not to have implied any semantic distinction, but merely the level of the given writer's awareness of and concern for etymological purity. But between the middle of the sixteenth and the end of the seventeenth centuries, separate associations began to accrue to the originally synonymous words. These changing semantic associations in turn reflect increasingly divergent understandings of the art of studying and manipulating created matter. (The word 'chemistry' derives from 'chemist', a chemist being a practitioner of 'chemia'. The OED suggests that at its first appearance around the beginning of the seventeenth century it had pejorative connotations, as in 'sophistry', but in Hartlib's papers it seems to be merely a variant form of 'chemia'. Neither German nor French found any need for such an extra term, and they still use 'Chemie' and 'chémie' respectively for 'chemistry' in the modern sense.) An exhaustive account of this development would fill a book in itself. All I shall offer here are some pointers and suggestions, based principally on the extensive chemical/alchemical material in the Hartlib Papers, and thus representing the crucial transitional stage of the third, fourth and fifth decades of the seventeenth century.

By about the middle of the eighteenth century, it was becoming possible to distinguish between the two terms in the manner still widely accepted today, seeing chemistry as 'true' and 'rational' science, alchemy as 'false' and 'superstitious' myth or magic if not outright charlatanism. (That is not to say such a distinction was by then universally accepted. On the contrary, the vehemence with which alchemy was derided by rationalists such as J.C. Adelung in the eighteenth century is evidence of how seriously it continued to be taken in many quarters during the 'Age of Reason'. One does not waste ammunition on an opponent who is already dead.[61]) But no such distinction could have been made at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and it was barely beginning to be made - if at all - by the time of Hartlib's death in 1662.


In the following examples, the two words appear to be used without distinction. (In this and the following paragraphs, emphasis has been added to citations by the use of bold type. In my translations here, I have used chemist, chemistry, etc. to render all derivatives of chymia; and alchemy, alchemist, etc. for all derivatives of alchymia. The reader is requested to shelve for present purposes all semantic preconceptions about either word.)

The author of one anonymous and undated tract among Hartlib's papers inveighed in the same breath against the 'common herd of alchemists' and 'pseudo-philosophical chemists'.[62] Sophronius Kozack in his Liber Spagyricæ mocked at 'ignorant apothecaries, lying alchemists and presumptuous surgeons',[63] having just said that a true physician must be, among other things, a master of alchemy.[64] George Starkey[65] contrasted the 'half-learned knowledge of alchemy'[66] of 'deceivers and sophists'[67] with the true and faithful student who 'at once acquires the name of chemist, and soon afterward earns the title of Philosopher',[68] learning operations that are beyond the reach of the 'common chemists'.[69] Starkey himself had identified mercury as the 'true key to the art of alchemy'.[70] Glauber recalled having had to suffer the jibes of the ignorant rabble jeering 'Alchimist, Alchimist!', who failed to distinguish 'true alchemy from vagabond rogues or false alchemists'.[71] In none of this does the choice of the term 'alchemy' carry a greater suggestion of mysticism, esotericism or magic, either approvingly or pejoratively. Much of the time the two terms were still being used interchangeably, almost synonymously. If there is a distinction to be drawn between them in the writings of this period, it is not the distinction that is drawn today. Herwig Buntz speaks of a 'separation of alchemy from chemistry' ('Trennung von Alchimie und Chemie') in the seventeenth century, but the work he cites as a ground-breaking example of the latter is a book by Andreas Libavius entitled 'Alchemia' (1597).[72]

There are, however, many instances where a distinction does seem to be made, though it is often difficult to deduce quite what that distinction is intended to be. One self-promoting list of experiments proclaimed that the author had 'many things in chemistry, alchemy, medicine, the mechanical arts and natural magic'.[73] Heinrich Appelius, informing Hartlib about Glauber's furnaces, remarked 'they will be very useful for a chemist or an alchemist'.[74] He later added, 'I think those that have skill in chymicall et alchymisticall matters […] will be best able to judge of his [Glauber's] inventions'.[75] Hartlib heard in 1652 that one Dr Fogarty had acquired 'all the MS. of Hugens [probably Constantijn Huygens] […] They are all in Latin several Volums Medicinal Chymical and Alchymical'.[76] Dury spoke of ploys to inveigle information out of people, 'as Chimists sometimes or Alchimists use to doe when they would dive into the secrets of nature which others pretend [i.e. claim] to have'.[77]

Some of this may be mere tautology, a common enough feature of seventeenth-century writing in general (and of Dury's in particular). But tautology was a rhetorical or stylistic device designed either to clarify unfamiliar terms (as in 'your Tubus or Telescopium') or to add weight to a discourse and to enhance the writer's perceived authority by showing off his or her command of language: it characteristically juxtaposes synonyms or near-synonyms that are etymologically distinct and do not look or sound unduly similar. The effect becomes transparent if obvious cognates are used. <165> Tautology is not an adequate explanation of this repeated placing side by side of these two terms as though in opposition.

There is one document in particular which suggests a distinction compatible with all the types of usage described above: it is again a letter from Appelius to Hartlib, and is a personal assessment of what advantages a friend of Hartlib's (unnamed but almost certainly Benjamin Worsley[78]) might reasonably expect from a visit to Glauber. Though inclined to favour the idea, Appelius prefaced his remarks with this caveat:

I doubt not but the Gentleman knowes how fickel, difficult, dangerous et chargable matter is Chymia especially Alchimia […] Chymia egregia promittit, et præstat, sed non sunt omnium temporum nec personarum, Condimenta dat non Alimenta, Coronam non Vestem. [Chemistry promises and delivers great things, but they are not for all times and all people; it gives the spices but not the substance, the crown but not the clothes.] […] Alchimia adhuc est difficilior [alchemy has so far been more difficult]: yet intend I not to make the friend afraid: naturalis impetus hic Coryphæus est, si uspiam est [a natural impulse is the leader here if anywhere].[79]

Appelius's terms here are hardly crystal clear, but the general implication is surely that alchemy is a distinct field not from chemistry but within it. It is the most 'difficult, dangerous et chargable [i.e. expensive]' part of it, but it is also the core, the yolk of it, providing sustenance rather than mere flavouring through an understanding of essences as opposed to outward forms. Just as Bacon's 'Natural Histories' were a preparative to the 'experiments of fruit' that would once again make Nature Man's servant; just as Comenius's didactics were a preparative to the opening of the 'Janua rerum', the gateway to real things; just as Pell's Idea of Mathematics posited all preliminary mathematical study as a preparative for grasping the method that would solve all mathematical problems whatsoever; so the theoretical aspects of chemistry were a preparative to penetrating its core, alchemy, the spiritual understanding of created matter and mastery of the 'soul of the world'. All alchemists were chemists, but not all chemists were alchemists. The distinction is between the mere student and the practitioner or 'adept', between passive understanding of Nature's forms and active dominion over her spirit. The chemist was as it were the cartographer of a newly discovered country; the alchemist colonised it.

The Key to Creation

The seventeenth century was alchemy's Indian summer. Its practitioners had no sense of nurturing a science in its infancy, a 'prelude to chemistry';[80] on the contrary, many of them looked to the imminent culmination of all knowledge. Like Pansophy, alchemical theory presupposed a universe comprehensible to humankind by dint of the fact that everything in it was interconnected, producing a harmony that in turn revealed the will of God to the enlightened listener. The simultaneous birth of Pansophy and resurgence of alchemy represent two dying convulsions of the microcosm-macrocosm theory.


The 'Chymicall Gentleman' Cheney Culpeper[81] wished to learn more about the effect of 'cold' (understood at the time as a potentially definable and measurable quality opposite to heat rather than simply a lack of the latter) on 'putrefaction' and 'multiplying of the spirit of nature', a 'multiplying' which would manifest itself in increased fertility. Given the terminology of the time and the known interests of Culpeper and his correspondent, Worsley, this evidently refers to the transmutation and multiplication of metals rather than to an agricultural process in the literal sense. Culpeper was explicit about having hit on the idea through a reflection on macrocosm-microcosm analogies:

not but that I acknowledge alsoe a spring and an autumn as well in our lithe [sic: presumably a scribal error for 'litle'] world as in the great but my desire is that if wee desire to see a fruitful summer, wee must pass through the winter quarters, for if wee looke into nature wee shall find winter to be a naturall cause of the fruitfullnes in summer.[82]

Underlying this animistic view was the conviction that all Creation was imbued with a materially identifiable life-force, variously designated 'world spirit' ('spiritus mundi'), 'world soul' ('anima mundi'), 'universal spirit' ('spiritus universalis') and the like. Paracelsus called it an 'aerial nitre'.[83] As ever, it is very difficult if not impossible to determine just what was understood by these terms, if, indeed, there was any consensus as to their definition, but the chemical literature of the period is full of practical experiments aiming to isolate and analyse this spirit, illustrating the way in which the new experimental philosophy was seen by the alchemists not as a challenge but an ally. 'Salt' in particular - a term of even greater ambiguity as used at the time - came to assume an importance it would be virtually impossible to overstate. Robert Fludd thought he had isolated the material spirit of life from wheat as 'a pure and divine volatile salt of wondrous properties'[84] and J.B. Van Helmont was 'convinced that the vital spirit must be saltlike and aerial in nature'.[85] Perhaps the most spectacular claims for salt were made by the colourful figure of J.R. Glauber, who will provide the focus for the following chapter.

'Salt' is the dominant theme in much of Glauber's writing. Like most authors who accepted the microcosm-macrocosm theory - and Glauber embraced it wholeheartedly -, he saw nothing odd in setting down side by side recipes for a salt preparation to kill maggots in cheese and another to turn base metals into gold, for preparing 'aurum potabile' and 'philosophic dung' ('philosophischer Mist').[86] He was typical too in combining, almost in the same breath, conclusions drawn from laboratory experiment and from Scriptural exegesis and seeing the two as complementary. He pointed out that Christ referred to his disciples as 'the salt of the earth' (Mark 9:49-50), proving that salt is divinely privileged above all other substances just as the disciples were divinely chosen above all other men,[87] and went so far as to speak of Christ himself as 'a pure divine salt' ('ein lauter Gottlicher Saltz').[88] Its value as a fertiliser and preservative proved that it contained the miraculous spark of life itself, associating it in Glauber's mind with the sun, likewise a great fructifier, and with the first divine act of Creation, making it superior and anterior to the four Aristotelian elements: 'Salt is a symbol of eternity, for it is not altered or reduced in fire, air, water or earth, but long preserves all <167> things from decay. Salt was the first fiat at God's Creation, and from this fiat arose the elements'.[89] Hard as it may be to imagine God's first words having been 'let there be salt', Glauber went on to explain how salt emanating from the sun's fire passes down through air into the sea water (which, he claimed, is far saltier in sunny climes[90]) and thence into the interstices of the earth, animating and fecundating as it goes. In short, 'All fruitfulness and nutrition, then, comes from salt, salt from the sun, and the sun from God the creator of all things'.[91]

This identification of sunlight with 'salt' finds a clear echo in Moriaen's descriptions of his optical experiments:

Concerning burning glasses, I have noted this too: if finely ground antimony is ignited through them by the sun, it burns away strongly and yet loses none of its weight, but becomes heavier by this means, which is proof indeed that the sun's rays impart natural salt and impregnate [the antimony] with it'.[92]

The conclusion is not as wild as it may at first sound. The nature of light was one of the great mysteries of seventeenth-century science, and many leading thinkers tending towards atomism, including Gassendi and Newton, inclined to the view that it was composed of extremely small atoms, i.e. was a material substance, albeit of an exceptionally rarefied nature. Ally this with a belief that salt is a primordial building-block of Creation, and it becomes entirely logical to expect that sunshine should consist at least partially of salt.

Metals and minerals were generally seen not as inanimate, but as organic substances growing in the earth like vegetables (though far more slowly). Bruce T. Moran gives a fascinating account of how in 1618 the alchemist Johann Popp 'proved' this theory to the delight of his patron Moritz of Hessen by growing crystal flowers from lead.[93] A contemporary (and open-ended) discussion of the idea can be found in 'A Discourse about the Essence or Existence of Mettals' by Gerard Malyne, the (unpaginated) Appendix to the Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses. Comenius took it entirely for granted:

if one wishes to distinguish Man's end and the means to his end by comparing him with other creatures, one will not concentrate upon his points of likeness to metals or stones or animals (inasmuch as he is born and grows and feeds and moves and uses his senses) but upon his points of excellence.[94]

Boyle too (or at least his fictional self-personification, the 'Sceptical Chymist' Carneades) thought the most plausible account of the origin of mineral matter, including metals, to be that it grew in the earth: he cited the formation of stalactites as an example.[95] He also thought it probable that minerals altered in nature in the course of their development, though he characteristically warned that 'the growth or increment of Minerals being usually a work of excessively long time, and for the most part perform'd in the bowels of the Earth, where we cannot see it, I must instead of Experiments make use, on this occasion, of Observations'.[96] Many less cautious spirits took such natural growth and transmutation of metals as axiomatic, and assumed that since Nature, being <168> the creation of God, aspired always toward perfection, they reached the highest stage of their development in gold. Alchemists saw themselves not as perverters or mutators of nature but as catalysts in a natural process. Their art was the husbandry of matter, and especially of metals. Thus, for instance, Glauber gives a method of 'planting' a gold 'seed' in the 'earth' of copper and regulus of antimony and 'watering' it with saltpetre to stimulate its growth:

and here the gold takes the place of a seed, and the copper and regulus of antimony the place of the earth in which the seed feeds and multiplies itself, and the saltpetre the place of the rainwater that moistens the earth and makes it fruitful. The longer the gold lies growing in this earth, the greater will be its increase.[97]

Though the sexually-cum-astrologically-based tradition that saw each metal as being born of the astral 'seeds' with which each 'planet' impregnated the earth was by no means universally accepted even among the Spagyrists, its implications were deep-rooted and continued to influence scientific thought into the eighteenth century if only at a subconscious level. It is essential to bear in mind that only seven metals were distinguished at this period, corresponding to the seven 'planets': from Saturn came lead; from Jupiter, tin; from Venus, copper; from Mars, iron; from Mercury, mercury (the one hangover in modern English of chemistry's astrological pedigree); from the Moon, silver, and from the Sun, gold. There was no reason for the Copernican reorganisation of the model of the planetary system to dent this astrological and microcosmical interpretation of the nature of metals: on the contrary, the centrality it accorded the sun served rather to confirm that gold occupied a privileged position in the hierarchy of created matter, and that other metals drew their life from it and aspired to develop into it. As Glauber put it, 'Nature strives continually to bring her children to perfection, but base metals are not perfect. Why should we not be able to come to Nature's aid and improve them?'[98] The Latin names and astrological symbols for the 'planets' were used as synonyms and shorthand respectively for the corresponding metals until well into the eighteenth century, even by thinkers who had nothing but derision for the theory underlying such nomenclature. This ingrained habit, together with the deeply-rooted belief that seven was a magic or mystic number, probably did much to retard the realisation that there are in fact rather more than seven metals. Though other metals were known and named, such as bismuth, antimony and zinc, these were taken to be 'imperfect', 'immature' or 'half' metals, which had not yet grown into true ones.[99]

The mystical-alchemical theosophy of Jacob Boehme, which was highly influential on many of these thinkers, set out to define God himself as, effectively, a chemical reaction (though obviously of a highly exalted, spiritual nature). God consisted, he claimed, of seven 'source spirits' ('Quell-Geister'), each with a different 'quality': the sour, the sweet, the bitter, heat, love, sound and the 'corpus' which comprehended the first six. All seven constantly gave birth to each other and affected or 'qualified' one another in, as it were, an eternal and infinite chain reaction.[100] Boehme, it should be pointed out, was not himself a practising alchemist, though the influence of alchemical literature (especially Paracelsus) on his idiosyncratic account of <169> God, Creation and the Universe is unmistakeable. Nor was he so presumptuous as to purport to have analysed God in this fashion by experiment. He claimed a single and irrefutable source for all his knowledge of such matters: God had told him personally. But his association of alchemical theories and language with insight into the deepest mysteries of God and Nature is highly symptomatic of the aspirations of the chemical philosophers.

Creation itself was seen by many as an alchemical process, the separating out into discrete elements of the initial Chaos. The early chapters of Genesis were frequently invoked as images of and sanction for the alchemist's labour. Culpeper, for instance, sought to produce 'such an excitation of the Spirit of nature as that it may (as in the beginning) moove in and upon the waters'.[101] It followed that to practise alchemy was to emulate God - an idea strikingly exemplified in a tract sent to Hartlib from Hamburg,[102] which he passed on to Moriaen, J.F. Schlezer and others for comment. The author of this work, a now otherwise unknown septuagenarian going by the name of Stapula,[103] not only wished to replicate the action of the Holy Spirit in Creation, he maintained that he had isolated that Spirit by experiment. The piece advertises a miraculous 'spirit of mercury' or 'philosophical water' ('spiritus mercurii', 'philosophisches wasser') which would preserve seeds from frost, increase the yield of a crop three thousandfold and cure all diseases, 'and this is the quintessence of the Universal Spirit that moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1)'.[104] To be sure, this remarkable claim of in vitro revelation was too much for Hartlib's correspondents. Moriaen characteristically criticised it as undemonstrated speculation: 'I see indeed that the author's philosophy goes beyond his experience'.[105] But, equally typically, he suggested the discovery was probably not without value, albeit the claims made for it were preposterously exaggerated. Schlezer suspected the 'philosophical water' of being merely ammonia ('Spiritus Vrinæ').[106] Another commentator, who remains anonymous, objected more sternly to the virtually blasphemous implication of the claims: 'it is expressly stated in the text [of Genesis] that this spirit was the Spirit of God, but it is absurd for a chemist to try to make a quintessence into the Spirit of God'.[107] Yet the fact remains that the claim was made and that Hartlib seriously canvassed opinions on it. This philosophy not only saw but set out to analyse the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower.

An exchange such as this helps to suggest the tightrope alchemists found themselves obliged to walk. Just as Comenius had been criticised for a presumptuous mingling of divine and human knowledge, for attempting through his merely human Pansophy to gain access to an omniscience that was only accessible to his Creator, so - perhaps even more so - were alchemists vulnerable to the charge of playing God. Hence the defensive iteration of pious rhetoric that is a feature of almost all writing of the genre. Over and again, these thinkers and experimenters insisted that their knowledge had been vouchsafed them by God himself, that they were acting under his tutelage and on his instructions. Their dilemma is implicit throughout the myth of Genesis itself. On the one hand, people were created in the image of God, and specifically instructed to take charge of the rest of Creation: clearly it behoved them to emulate their Maker.[108] On the other hand, the first two great curses brought down on them were precisely for overstepping the bounds of <170> their delegated responsibility and aspiring to divine status themselves.

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.[109]

The same thing happened at Babel: it was to be a tower 'whose top may reach unto heaven', but God again seems to have been palpably alarmed at such presumption:

this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.[110]

Naturally, alchemists were at pains to stress that when they replicated the Creation act in miniature in their laboratories, they were acting as faithful stewards, not as usurping masters. The question on which no consensus could be reached was where to draw the line between the two, and it would be rash to take at face value the alchemists' rationalisations of their schemes. As with the writings of missionary colonialists and pansophic educationalists, the fundamental impulse behind these works can be seen, I would suggest, as a desire for reassurance that humanity has both the right and the ability to comprehend and control the world about it.

The influence of such concerns and convictions on the laboratory practice of the alchemists is illustrated in two strikingly similar experiments aiming to isolate the life-spirit, one described by Moriaen in somewhat fragmentary fashion (and at second hand, as he frankly admitted) in the course of three letters between April and July 1658,[111] the other, apparently independently, by Glauber in Part IV of Des Teutschlands Wohlfahrt,[112] published the following year. Both versions involved 'magnetising' a raw material by impregnating it with sunlight and subsequently using the 'magnet' to attract from the night air something described by Moriaen as 'salt of nature' ('sal naturæ') and by Glauber as 'a water, in which water is concealed the general nutriment of the air'.[113] This substance was then purified by distillation (Moriaen) or evaporation of the superfluous fluid (Glauber), and what remained exposed again by night, purified again, and so forth, over a period of some thirty days in Moriaen's version, or a hundred in Glauber's. What remained at the end was, according to Moriaen, a 'liquor' containing the sperm of both the sun and the moon, or in Glauber's account a 'salt' in which 'the astral life-giving rays of the sun' had been made 'visible, tangible, corporeal and solid'.[114]

Moriaen called his liquor the 'Universal menstruum' but gave no clearer indication of what he thought it was or what was to be done with it; however, the mention of solar and lunar seeds clearly points to an alchemical purpose, the sun and moon being the ruling 'planets' of gold and silver respectively. Glauber was marginally more forthcoming on this point: his preparation was a medicine (though he neglected to say what for) and it could transmute metals (but he forgot to mention how). What comes down to us is a great cry of Eureka but no very clear definition of what was supposed to have been found. That it struck a chord in contemporary minds, however, is evidenced not only by the fact that Moriaen returned to the subject four times within three months, obviously at Hartlib's urging, but by Hartlib's underlining relevant passages in the manuscripts or having scribal copies and translations made of them. He also discussed with Boyle a later version of Moriaen's experiment, of which there is no trace in the surviving papers. In 1659, Hartlib advised his young friend that 'Concerning the instrument of catching and condensing the sun- <171> beams, I have a promise of a large account from Mr Morian'.[115] And he elicited a lively reaction from Poleman, who urged Hartlib to send him full details:

I thank you most warmly for the extracts you sent of Herr Moriaen's manuscript on concentrating the spirit of the world. But among other things, Herr Moriaen says in his account that he has revealed to you a method of catching the water of the air by means of calcined pebbles: I pray you seek this out and send it to me as soon as possible.[116]

Close comparison of the two experiments leaves Glauber's account looking suspiciously like a rewrite of Moriaen's with certain crucial details left out. The point cannot be proved one way or the other without further documentary evidence, but I do not think it out of the question that Glauber based his version, without acknowledgment, on information given him by Moriaen. Since Moriaen made no claim to have devised or even conducted the experiment himself, there is no reason to suppose that if Moriaen had had it from Glauber he would have concealed the fact from Hartlib. He said he had learned it 'from the mouth of my cousin' ('aus meines Vettern mund), the 'cousin' in question having taken part himself in the experiment. The German word 'Vetter', like the English 'cousin', was at this date used very loosely to designate any relative beyond the immediate family (though Moriaen's German grammar makes it clear this relative was male): since he gave no indication of how long ago he had learned the process, it is conceivable that the reference is to his alchemically-inclined brother-in-law Peter von Zeuel, but this is pure conjecture.

Whether or not Glauber and Moriaen were aware of how similar their experiments were, the two accounts exemplify the contrasting presentation of public and private alchemical exchange. Glauber totally omitted to define the nature of his raw material; Moriaen somewhat more helpfully described his as a coarse powder obtained by grinding a type of flint or pebble[117] to be found by the Rhine. Moriaen was quite explicit in stating that what his 'magnet' initially attracted from the air was 'salt'; Glauber said no such thing, but did suddenly and bafflingly start referring to the residue after evaporation as 'salt'. Similarly, Glauber abruptly remarked that the evaporation drew off superfluous liquid without affecting the 'seeds' the magnet had attracted, but gave no hint as to what these seeds were or where they had come from; Moriaen was far more specific with his solar and lunar spermata.

Glauber's omissions are deliberate, for like most alchemists who actually went to press, his aim was not to communicate the whole mystery (whether or not he believed himself to know it). It was rather to attract the interest of a particular audience. Whether in Glauber's case that intended audience consisted solely of well-heeled potential patrons or included anyone whose piety, wisdom and application rendered them worthy of alchemical enlightenment is a moot point. In all probability he had both categories in mind: and should his work fall under the eyes of someone who belonged to both categories at once, so much the better. It is in any case certain that he was in the habit of sending presentation copies of his new publications to figures of high social standing who had shown signs of interest in the chemical philosophy.[118] Moriaen, on the other hand, knew very well who his <172> audience was: it was Hartlib and Clodius in the first instance, and anyone to whom they saw fit to pass on the information. He was clearly not seeking any personal gain through the communication, and in contrast to most such private reports there is no injunction to secrecy. Moreover, far from hinting at further information that he might be induced to impart, he repeatedly apologised for having no more to offer. It is a genuine example of 'free and generous communication of secrets'.

Both accounts, though, Moriaen's no less than Glauber's, seem frustratingly incomplete. In particular, they are very vague as to the nature and use of the experiment's end product. In Glauber's case, this is hardly surprising, for all the reasons just stated. In Moriaen's the matter is less clear-cut. It may be that he saw no reason to expand on the definition of 'universal menstruum' because he thought Hartlib would regard it as self-evident. On the whole, however, this seems unlikely. Neither Moriaen nor Hartlib ever claimed to be an adept. Hartlib was an interested observer and sponsor of other men's labours in the field, but clearly no more than that. Moriaen certainly was a practising alchemist, but he never pretended to be a very successful one. It is likely that the lacunae in the account simply represent the limitations of Moriaen's own knowledge and understanding of the business.

Nonetheless, however vague he may have been as to what the 'universal menstruum' actually was, he seems to have been quite sure that whatever it was, this was it. The same applies to the 'ludus Paracelsi' he sent Hartlib through Albert Otto Faber in 1661, and to the method of turning antimony into gold he believed he had discovered in the early 1650s. (This will be discussed in Chapter Seven.) Glauber and Moriaen found what they were looking for because they defined their results in terms of what they were expecting to find. By the same token, many alchemists must have concluded that what they had produced was a form of gold, or the elixir, or the universal spirit, because they were assured by respected authority and/or what they took to be divine inspiration that that was what their method would produce. It was one thing to dismiss the theories of pagans such as Galen and Aristotle as ignorant or misguided and to refute them by experiment, but the study of true Scripture and the insights achieved through pious Christian meditation could only serve to illuminate and explain experimental data. This is not to accuse these thinkers of intellectual laziness or dishonesty, merely to attempt to understand their habits of thought by placing them in historical context.

The letters and documents of the natural philosophers directly or indirectly associated with Hartlib in the mid-seventeenth century, far from showing any gathering doubts about the claims of alchemy, manifest a mounting and at times near-hysterical enthusiasm. Confronted with unprecedented social upheavals - the Thirty Years War in Germany and surrounding lands, the civil wars in England - and with the explosion of information and new philosophies posited in the previous chapter as the challenge that inspired Comenian Pansophy, they found in alchemy a system of thought that reconciled the evidence of their senses with the demands and promised rewards of the Christian faith to which they clung with almost desperate tenacity. There was, in their minds, no antithesis between the pragmatic inductivism of Bacon and the mystic Paracelsianism of Boehme, and they actively encouraged the development of new technology and experimental science, which they thought could only contribute to their work. The papers <173> abundantly demonstrate that, as is now widely recognised, the revival of alchemy and the growth of the 'new' science were not merely parallel but inextricably intertwined. Though empiricism was in time to sound the death-knell of alchemy, it is wholly anachronistic to speak in terms of a conflict between the two at this date. Francis Bacon, dismissing alchemy as outmoded superstition, thought he was speaking of the past, but might equally be seen as having predicted the future, when in 1605 he acknowledged that

surely to alchemy this right is due: that […] the search and stir to make gold hath brought to light a great number of good and fruitful inventions and experiments, as well for the disclosing of nature as for the use of man's life'.[119]

Bacon meant to suggest that such useful discoveries were an unintentional by-product of the vain labours of would-be gold-makers. In fact, the disclosure of nature and use of man's life were very much part of the alchemical agenda, but they were by no means the whole of it. The underlying impulse, like that of Bacon's own projected Great Instauration, was dominion. I suggested at the end of the last sub-chapter that alchemists, as opposed to mere chemists, might be seen not as mappers but as colonists of the created world. Such an account is of course anachronistic, representing a twentieth-century analysis that would have been quite incomprehensible to a seventeenth-century practitioner of alchemy. Alchemical rhetoric speaks not of dominating or colonising Nature, but of helping it, husbanding it, curing it. Nor, for that matter, did 'philo-Judaists' such as Moriaen, or the missionaries who set out for the supposedly New World, regard or project themselves as conquerors: they genuinely believed, or many of them did, that they were doing the benighted Jews and native Americans a favour by guiding (or driving) them towards the light, accelerating their progress along a path that was divinely pre-ordained. Like the inhabitants of nations overcome by Thomas More's Utopians, one could only expect them, in the long run, to be grateful for the experience.

All metals aspired to become, indeed were destined to become, gold. Jews (and, by some accounts, heathens) were likewise destined to mature into Christians. Colonists, Pansophists and alchemists were only acting as catalysts, helping the rest of Creation on its providentially pre-ordained way, raising it to the standard of physical and spiritual health it had been vouchsafed them to recognise. Or so they convinced themselves.

The impulse underlying both Pansophy and alchemy is that underlying the Judaic Creation myth itself. The Book of Genesis is essentially an affirmation of the divine sanction accorded to humankind to assert control over the rest of Creation, and to a given race and creed to assert control over the rest of humanity. Put another way, it is a rationalisation of the impulse to exercise such control. Judaism's equally anthropocentric daughter religions, Christianity and Islam, accepted wholesale the notion of humanity's privileged position within the sublunary sphere, and adroitly transferred the status of chosen race and creed, with all the responsibility and licence that status implied, to a variety of European and Arab civilisations. While alchemy in early modern Europe tended on the whole to downplay the importance of national identity (the figure of the 'Cosmopolite' was a stock-in-trade of the <174> alchemical tradition, and one which Starkey in particular made an integral part of his self-projection), the notion of a supremely privileged, divinely sanctioned elect resurfaces as strongly as ever in the topos of the magus or adept inspired directly by God and manipulating the very fabric of the planet.

It was suggested earlier that Christian proselytisers regarded Jews (or whatever other group they were seeking to 'enlighten') as raw material to be remoulded in their own image. James Holstun, in his extremely perceptive and thought-provoking study of Protestant Utopianism, depicts Comenius's educational ideology in very similar terms, and relates it to the endeavours of early colonists to set up new model societies on the 'virgin' soil of the Americas - and to the economic and ideological colonialism of our own time.[120] He draws attention to Comenius's notion of 'didachography', his oft-repeated metaphor of the infant mind as a blank page on which virtue and truth may be inscribed by the enlightened educator:

Nowhere does Comenius refer to the student as an autonomous subject or even as a being with any trace of prior individuality. He (or she - Comenius proposes the education of both sexes) is only the blank paper on which didachography prints. But the sheer repetititiveness of the printing becomes millennial: 'For the moment, it is enough to have shown that our discovery of didachography or the panmethodia can multiply learned men in precisely the same way that the discovery of printing has multiplied books […] And since we struggle to implant piety itself after planting learning and morality in the souls of all who are consecrated to Christ, we can hope for the fulfillment of those divine prophecies that we are commanded to hope for: "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9)'.[121]

Once again, the aim of alchemy can be seen as analogous to, or even an extension of, that of Pansophy. Alchemy sought to demonstrate the possibility of returning Creation itself to its original status as blank page, when the earth was without form, and void.[122] That page had been written on by the word that was in the beginning, that was with God and was God,[123] but the text had subsequently been corrupted by sin. Just as Comenian education would mould the uncorrupted minds of infants in godly fashion, as missionaries would build a new Jerusalem on the undefiled soil of the New World, so the alchemists would rewrite Creation in better accord with the original divine intention. Of course they did not think they were usurping God. They believed that God intended them to do so, and it is certainly not my intention to question the sincerity of that belief. My suggestion is rather that the God on whose authority they were acting was himself a projection of their own deep-seated impulse to mastery.

[1] It is certain that there were substantial losses from the archive. See Hartlib to Worthington, 2 Nov. 1661, Worthington Diary II.i, 67, on the 'distraction or embezzlement' of many books and manuscripts he had entrusted to an unnamed friend for safekeeping, and 6 Feb. 1662, ibid., 107, on the loss of more through a fire in his house. While he was living with his son in Axe Yard, his friend Samuel Wartensky was alarmed to find that his possessions were 'a prey to plunder by all' ('omnium exposita rapinæ' - Wartensky to Hartlib, 23 July 1661, HP 32/3/40A). Other papers were almost certainly abstracted from the collection after his death.

[2] There is one mention of him in a letter from Comenius to Hartlib, 25 May 1646, HP 7/73/3A, stating that Moriaen would send Hartlib Comenius's new publications from Amsterdam, though whether Moriaen in fact did so is a moot point. Apart from this, he is mentioned only in the letters of Dury's brother-in-law Heinrich Appelius.

[3] 'bin woll eher ein großer liebhaber und verfechter metaphysicarum et metaphysicorum gewest, wie Ich aber darnach ad scientias reales et usuales kommen, sind mir die speculationes inutiles stinkend worden' - Moriaen to Hartlib, 10 Feb. 1648, HP 37/129A.

[4] The Advancement of Learning, Works III, 287.

[5] Comenius' Självbiografi, 148 (Young, Comenius in England, 31).

[6] Boyle to Isaac Marcombes, 22 Oct. 1646, Works I, xxxiv. The identity of this 'new philosophical college', referred to elsewhere by Boyle as the 'Invisible College', has been much debated: for a summary of opinions, see Webster, Great Instauration, 57-67; 'New Light on the Invisible College: the social relations of English science in the mid seventeenth century', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th series 24 (1974), 19-42, and 'Benjamin Worsley: Engineering for universal reform from the Invisible College to the Navigation Act', SHUR, 213-235. Webster's own suggestion that it was an informal association of younger scientists centred on Boyle, Worsley and Katherine Ranelagh, and possibly including the Boate brothers, John Sadler, Robert Child and John Winthrop, seems to me the most plausible, though as Webster points out there is no more than circumstantial evidence for anyone's membership but Boyle's.

[7] UBA N65a, 8 March 1634 (not 10 March as the UBA catalogue and van der Wall (Serrarius, 661) state, misreading the Gothic 8 which is written at 90° to the modern one). Chemistry is also discussed in letters from Cologne of 6 Sept. 1636 and 17 Jan. 1637 (UBA N65c and N65d).

[8] 'das mein herr in Philosophia experimentali & mechanica sich verliebet ist nicht zue wundern' - Moriaen to Hartlib, 10 Feb. 1648, HP 37/129A. It is unclear whether 'verliebet' is here a past participle or a present indicative: the phrase could equally be translated 'that you are falling in love with experimental and mechanical philosophy'; there can be little doubt, however, that Hartlib's infatuation with those subjects began well before 1648.

[9] HP 30/4/27A. Gauden's reply to the question, dated 16 June 1637, is preserved in full in the papers, HP 26/14/1A-15B. This is the same Gauden whose Love of Truth and Peace recommended Dury and Comenius to Parliament (see above, pp. 128-9).

[10] HP 29/5/77B.

[11] Allen G. Debus, The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the Sixteeenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York, 1977).

[12] Debus, The Chemical Philosophy I, xi.

[13] Cf. Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton, 10.

[14] Cf. HDC, 382-413, on frictions between Comenius and his assistants, especially Kinner; and Rood, Comenius and the Low Countries, 77-87, on strained relations with the de Geers.

[15] Figulus to Hartlib, 19 July 1658, HP 9/17/11A; Blekastad, Figulus Letters, 216.

[16] Figulus to Hartlib, 2 Aug. 1658, HP 9/17/15B; Blekastad, Figulus Letters, 219.

[17] 'Die geschraubte Symbolsprache war den Chemikern seiner Zeit genau so verständlich, wie es die moderne Formel uns heute ist' - K.F. Gugel, Johann Rudolph Glauber 1604-70: Leben und Werk (Würzburg, 1955), 39.

[18] Starkey, 'Sir George Riplye's Epistle to King Edward Unfolded', in Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses, 19-47, pp. 20 and 42.

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

[20] Eph 51, HP 28/2/24B.

[21] Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton, 10.

[22] A Reformation of Schooles, 6.

[23] The phrase is from the description on the title page of Boyle's contribution to the Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses, 'An Epistolical Discourse of Philaretus to Empyricus', which can virtually be read as the group's manifesto. It is 'An Invitation to a free and generous Communication of Secrets and Receits in Physick'.

[24] Lawrence M. Principe, 'Robert Boyle's alchemical secrecy: codes, ciphers and concealments', Ambix 39 (1992), 63-74, and see also Principe's major reassessment of Boyle, The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and his Alchemical Quest (Princeton, 1998), esp. pp. 148-9.

[25] Paracelsus, Werke, ed. Karl Sudhoff (Berlin, 1922-33) VIII, 38, cit. Heinrich Schipperges, 'Strukturen und Prozesse Alchimistischer Überlieferungen', in Emil Ploss et. al., Alchimia: Ideologie und Technologie (Munich, 1970), 67-118, p. 108.

[26] Magnalia Medico-Chymica, 12: 'Alchimey wird nur von den Unkündigen (so nicht wissen was sey/ sondern nur dafür halten/ es sey nichts anders darinn/ denn daß man sich narret mit Gold- und Silbermachen) verlachet und verachtet: Aber durch dieselbige Kunst magst du aus allen greifflichen Dingen Saltz/ Kelch/ Staub/ Wasser/ Safft/ Oel/ auf das alleredleste zurichten/ dadurch du einen krancken Menschen in wenig Stunden gantz sanfft und lieblich von seinen Gebrechen erledigen magst.'

[27] See Webster, Great Instauration, section 4 (246-323).

[28] Confessio Fraternitatis, 67 (37 in the van Dülmen edition).

[29] Fama Fraternitatis, 125 (29 in the van Dülmen edition): 'als ob die mutatio metallorum der höchste apex und fastigium in der philosophia were, und derselbe Gott besonders lieb sein müsse, so nuhr grosse Goldmassen und klumpen machen köndte […] So bezeugen wir hiermit öffentlich, daß solches falsch und es mit den wahren Philosophis also beschaffen, daß ihnen Gold zu machen ein geringes und nur ein parergon ist, derengleichen sie noch wol andere etlich tausend bessere stücklein haben.' A 'parergon' is a by-work or secondary employment.

[30] Magnalia Medico-Chymica, 14.

[31] George Thomson, Loimotomia; or the Pest Anatomized (London, 1666), 100, cit. Newman, Gehennical Fire, 205.

[32] HP 29/3/48B.

[33] 'Whether or no, each Several Disease hath a Particular Remedy?', Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses, 89-99 (translated from the proceedings of Théophraste Renaudot's 'Bureau d'Addresse').

[34] 'Es gefelt mir auch nicht aller dings an Glaubern das er eben hohen Persohnen solche rare Wissenschaft mitheilen will, den die pflegen dergleichen köstliche sachen doch nur gemeiniglich zu ihrer wollust und geitz zu misbrauchen' - Moriaen to ?, 31 Jan. 1651, HP 63/14/4A.

[35] See the epigraph to this chapter.

[36] Eph 49, 28/1/35A: the informants are Boyle himself and Worsley. There are no letters from Boyle among Hartlib's surviving papers, and so far as I am aware his 'Experiment of Iron and Antimony' has not been identified. It seems likely that Boyle's letters (of which there were undoubtedly a considerable number) were among those plundered from the archive in Hartlib's last years or after his death, either by figures who recognised the potential value of Boyliana or by friends or agents of Boyle himself concerned to erase evidence of his association with Hartlib, whose close association with Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentary cause meant that many were concerned to distance themselves from him after the Restoration.

[37] A Discovery of Subterraneall Treasure, 42.

[38] 'Er bekent in diesem tractat das diß sein aurum potabile nicht allein den [mercurium] sondern auch alle andere metallen in gutt goltt transmutire oder gradire aber ohne nuz und also unnötig darzue zue gebrauchen als allein die mügligkeit und warheit zue beweisen, wie auch diße medicinam als Universalem zue bewehren' - Moriaen to Hartlib, 5 Oct. 1657, HP 42/2/22A.

[39] Genesis 2:11-12.

[40] 'seine bücher in vnd allezeit [haben mir] sehr missgefallen, dass ich gar ein grossen äckel dafür bekommen, vnd […] kaum ein paragraphum darin lesen kan, dass ich über den verkehrten man nicht ein gerechten zorn concipire, weil er so trotziglich vnd speciosè der weisen schrifften viel gräwlicher drähet vnd zwacket, als die allergreiligsten vnd ärgesten kätzer die Heilige Schrifft verkehren; vnd verleitet dieser böse man die einfaltigen vnd vnwissenden auf solche grewliche irr wege, auf welchen sie nimmermehr zur warheit kommen können. Mit was für gewissen solte ich wohl solchen muthwilligen verführer besuchen?' - Poleman to Hartlib, 12 Sept. 1659, HP 60/10/2A. The analogy with Scripture comes over even more strongly in German since the same word, 'Schriften', covers both human writings and holy writ.

[41] Facsimile reproduction with an introduction by A.G. Debus, London, 1967: the Canon's Yeoman's Tale is at pp. 227-56.

[42] Donne, Ignatius his Conclave, ed. T.S. Healy (Oxford, 1969), 21 (Donne's own translation of his Latin original).

[43] Cf. Bruce T. Moran, The Alchemical World of the German Court: Occult Philosophy and Chemical Medicine in the Circle of Moritz of Hessen (1572-1632), Sudhoffs Archiv Beiheft 29 (Stuttgart, 1991), passim.

[44] Chymical, Medicinal, and Chyrurgical Addresses, 81-3.

[45] Ibid., 87.

[46] Plattes, A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (London, 1641), 11-12. As Webster suggests, the book in question was probably Plattes' own Arts Mistress, which is now lost if indeed it was ever completed (Utopian Planning and the Puritan Revolution, 86).

[47] Hartlib to Winthrop, 16 March 1660, HP 7/7/2B, replying to Winthrop's query at HP 32/1/4A (16 Dec. 1659).

[48] 'Sucht Er aber Laboris socium vnd kan seine wißenschafft allein nicht ins werkh stellen, der gibt Ihm genug wan Er ihn das werckh auff seine kosten machen läst' - Moriaen to Hartlib, 24 March 1639, HP 37/14A.

[49] Kretschmar was a diplomat in the service of Elector Friedrich ('the Great') of Brandenburg, and was in England in 1657-8, petitioning Cromwell to release the funds raised by an official charitable collection for the Bohemian and Polish exiles (copy of the petition at HP 54/35A), and approaching the Austin Friars Consistory for further assistance for them (Hessels III, nos. 3441, 3445). While in London he made the acquaintance of Hartlib and his friends, and seems to have been involved with Clodius's 'Chemical College' (Webster, Great Instauration, 302).

[50] 22 July/1 August 1659, HP 26/64/1A-4B; cf. Turnbull, 'Johann Valentin Andreæs Societas Christiana', Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 73 (1954), 407-31, p. 414, n. 53. William Brereton (1631-1679) was a founder member of the Royal Society and from 1664 third Lord Brereton. He had studied at Breda under Pell and was close to the Hartlib circle; it was he who purchased Hartlib's papers after their owner's death. See James Crossley (ed.) The Diary and Correspondence of John Worthington I (Manchester, 1847), 212-13, and the 'Introduction' to SHUR, 4-7.

[51] Bruce T. Moran cites many similar examples in The Alchemical World of the German Court.

[52] Hartlib to Boyle, 7 Jan. 1658, Boyle, Works VI, 99.

[53] A draft of this letter in Clodius's hand and a fair scribal copy, both undated, are appended to the original Kretschmar letter, HP 26/64/5A-7B. Turnbull states rather bewilderingly that 'eine Abschrift befindet sich bei den Briefen Johann Morians in Hartlibs Papieren, und jener konnte es verfaßt haben' ('there is a copy among the letters of Johann Moriaen in Hartlib's papers, and he may have been the author') ('J.V. Andreæs Societas Christiana', 414, n. 53). This (most uncharacteristically for Turnbull) is completely erroneous. The document is not located among Moriaen's letters, and the hand of the draft is unmistakeably Clodius's.

[54] 'Den mein H wir sindt alhie nicht so vnwissend, dz wir nicht könten […] auß einer Vntze ein wenig goldes bringen, aber hier entweder es zahlet nicht die vnkosten oder es gehet nicht an im großen.'

[55] 'versichere Meinen Herrn dz man davor gewißlich helt dz sein weg sehr profitable muste sein weil er 600lb davor begehret.'

[56] Poleman to Hartlib, 12 Sept. 1659, HP 60/4/56B-57A.

[57] 'dz liebliche zischen einer solchen listigen schlangen' - Poleman to Hartlib, 15 Aug. 1659, HP 60/10/1A.

[58] 'zur großen schmach der mehr als königlichen kunst, der wahren Chymia' - Poleman to Hartlib, 19 Sept. 1659, HP 60/4/58A-B. Poleman is referring here to yet another German alchemist in Amsterdam, Liebhart.

[59] On this subject, see A.J. Rocke, 'Agricola, Paracelsus and "Chymia"', Ambix 32 (1985), 38-45. The article is useful for defining the (al)chemical genres: 'esoteric' (religio-philosophical), 'exoteric' (transmutational) and 'empirical' (technological and pharmaceutical), but as I hope to show, the demarcations between these three were far from rigid, and the semantic distinction that applies 'alchemy' to the first two and 'chymia' to the third was far from being generally accepted by the mid-seventeenth century. Since this book was published, William Newman and Lawrence Principe have gone a long way towards providing the sort of philological study I called for in their important joint articles 'Alchemy vs. Chemistry: the etymological origins of a historiographic mistake', Early Science and Medicine 3 (1998), 32-65, and (especially) 'Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy', in W.R. Newman and Anthony Grafton (eds.), Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), 385-434. My rather tentative findings here need to be critically reviewed in the light of Newman's and Principe's much more detailed and wide-ranging study of the alchemical literature, though the general thrust of both our analyses is the same.

[60] Rocke, op. cit., 38-9 and passim.

[61] Adelung, Geschichte der menschlichen Narrheit (Leibzig, 1785), passim. Cf. Debus, 'The Paracelsians in Eighteenth-Century France: A Renaissance Tradition in the Age of Enlightenment', Ambix 28 (1981), 36-54; reproduced as chapter 14 of Chemistry, Alchemy and the New Philosophy: studies in the history of science and medicine (Variorum Reprints, London, 1987).

[62] 'alchemistarum vulgo', 'Chemici Philosophastri' (HP 18/12/11B).

[63] 'Ignari pharmacopæi, mendaces alchimistæ, temerarij chyrurgi' (HP 25/20/7A).

[64] 'Famulantur autem Medicinæ, Physica, Botanica, Anatomica, Chyrurgica, Alchimistica Pharmaceutica; omnes has artes cognoscere tenetur qvisqvis ambit titulum Medici' (HP 25/20/6B).

[65] The untitled and unascribed Latin tract at HP 18/7/1A-20B is a complete copy of Starkey's Metallorum metamorphosis, which was later published under his pseudonym 'Philalethes' in the collection Musæum hermeticum reformatum et amplificatum (Frankfurt, 1678), 743-74. See William Newman, 'Prophecy and Alchemy: The Origin of Eiranæus Philalethes', Ambix 37 (1990), 97-115, for identification of Philalethes as Starkey.

[66] 'Nihil enim præter dispendium (et nummorum et temporis) à semidocta Alchymiæ scientia' (HP 18/7/1B; Musæum hermeticum, 743).

[67] 'Non etenim (qvia plurimi repriuntur, Alcymiam tractantes, deceptores sophistæ) hæc perinde) aut falsitates aut ineptiæ arguitur' (HP 18/7/2A-B; Musæum, 745).

[68] 'Chymistæ actutùm nomen induit; mox […] protinus Philosophi titulam vendicat' (HP 18/7/1B; Musæum, 744).

[69] 'Chymici vulgares' (HP 18/7/4A; Musæum, 748).

[70] '… veram (Artis Alchymiæ) clavem' (HP 18/7/17B; Musæum, 770).

[71] 'die wahre Alchimia von den Landtläuferischen Buben oder falschen Alchymisten' - Glauber, De tribus lapidibus ignium secretorum (Amsterdam 1667), 6-7.

[72] Herwig Buntz, 'Die europäische Alchimie vom 13. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert', in Ploss et al., Alchimia: Ideologie und Technologie, 119-210, p. 194.

[73] 'In Chymicis, Alchymicis, Medicinâ, Mechanicis artibus, Magiâ Naturali, plurima habeo' (HP 1/33/106A-B). The undated tract is entitled 'N. Reneri, Professoris Ultrajectini, Experimenta'. This is perhaps Cyprien Regneri ab Oosterga, who became professor at Utrecht in 1641 (cf. Correspondance de Mersenne X, 203), though it is not clear where the initial N comes from. It could simply be a mistake.

[74] 'einem Chymico oder Alchymiste […] dienen sie sehr wol' - Appelius to Hartlib, 5 Sept. 1644, HP 45/1/13A.

[75] Appelius to Hartlib, 26 Aug. 1647, HP 45/1/33B.

[76] Eph 52, HP 28/2/27B.

[77] Dury to [Worsley?], 25 Aug. 1655, HP 4/3/121A.

[78] On Worsley and his visit to the Netherlands, see below, pp. 217-26.

[79] Appelius to Hartlib, 6 Nov. 1647 (dated 27 Oct. O.S.), HP 45/1/27A.

[80] John Read, Prelude to Chemistry: An Outline of Alchemy, its Literature and Relationships (London, 1936).

[81] See M.J. Braddick and M. Greengrass, 'Introduction' to The Letters of Sir Cheney Culpeper (1641-1657), Camden Miscellany XXXIII (Cambridge, 1996), 115-150, and Stephen Clucas, 'The Correspondence of a XVII-Century "Chymicall Gentleman": Sir Cheney Culpeper and the chemical interests of the Hartlib Circle', Ambix 40 (1993), 147-70; also Chapter Seven below.

[82] Culpeper to Worsley, n.d. but probably late 1647, HP 13/223A.

[83] On the 'aerial nitre', see Allen G. Debus, Chemistry, Alchemy and the New Philosophy, 1550-1700 (Variorum Reprints, London, 1987), ch. 9, 'The Paracelsian Aerial Nitre'.

[84] Debus, op. cit., ch. 10, 253; Robert Fludd, Philosophical Key, ed. Debus (New York, 1979).

[85] Debus, ibid., 256.

[86] Miraculi mundi continuatio (Amsterdam, 1657), 85.

[87] De natura salium (Amsterdam, 1658), 14.

[88] Ibid., 115.

[89] 'Das Saltz ist […] ein Symbolum Æternitatis, weiln weder im Fewer/ Lufft/ Wasser/ noch Erden alteriret oder geringert wirdt/ sondern alles vor verderben eine lange Zeit bewaret. […] Das Saltz ist bey der Schöpfung GOttes das erste Fiat gewesen, vnd auß dem Fiat sind hernach die Elementa entstanden' - ibid., 43-4.

[90] Ibid., 10-11.

[91] 'Komt also alle fruchtbarkeit/ vnd Nahrung vom Saltze/ das Saltz von der Sonnen/ die Sonne von GOtt dem Schöpffer aller dingen' - ibid., 117.

[92] 'Von den brenn gläßern hab ich gleichwoll auch diß gesehen, wan man ein klein gestoßenen antimonium an der Sonne damit anstecket so rauchet Er stark hinweg und verliert gleichwoll nichts an seinem gewicht sondern wird schwerer dardurch, das dan freylich ein beweiß ist das der Sonnen stralen das sal naturæ hinein bringen und damit imprægniren' - Moriaen to Hartlib, 14 June 1658, HP 31/18/30A.

[93] The Alchemical World of the German Court, 130-31.

[94] Panegersia (1657), trans. A.M.O. Dobbie (Shipton on Stour, 1990), 10.

[95] Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist, 356-67.

[96] Sceptical Chymist, 356.

[97] 'vnd ist daß Goldt alhier anstatt eines Samens/ das [Kupfer]/ vnd Regul. Antim. aber an statt der Erden/ darauß das [Gold] sich nehret vnnd vermehret/ vnd der Salpeter anstat des Regen-wassers/ dadurch daß Erdtreich befeüchtet/ vnd fruchtbahr gemacht wirdt. Ie länger nun daß [Gold] in diesem Erdtreich liegt/ vnd wächset/ je mehr es zuwachses darauß stehet' - Miraculi mundi continuatio (Amsterdam, 1657), 67.

[98] 'Die Natur sucht allzeit jhre Kinder zur perfection zubringen/ vnd die geringe Metallen seynd nicht perfect. Warumb solte man der Natur nit zu hülff kommen/ vnd dieselbe verbessern können?' - Furni novi philosophici IV (Amsterdam, 1650), 37.

[99] Cf. Link, Glauber, 77.

[100] Aurora, oder Morgenröthe im Auffgang, Sämtliche Schriften I, ed. Ernst Peuckert, (Stuttgart, 1955), 85-132. I have drastically edited Boehme's account of these seven 'Quell-Geister', which I make no pretence of understanding in any detail.

[101] Culpeper to [Worsley?], 9 May 1648, HP 13/218B.

[102] HP 63/14/23A-24A, undated. The tract was sent by Joachim Lange on 14 October 1653.

[103] So Schlezer told Hartlib in his account of the figure (16 Dec. 1653, HP 63/14/26A); Schlezer's terms imply that this was a pseudonym. According to Schlezer he was 72 years old and lived in Hamburg, but no further evidence about him has been discovered.

[104] 'vnd ist dieses die Quinta Essentia des Universal Geistes, welcher Genesi primo Auff dem Wasser geschwebet' - HP 63/14/23A.

[105] 'sehe wol dz des Authoris Philosophia höher gehet als seine Erfahrung' - Moriaen to ?, 28 Nov. 1653, HP 63/14/24B and 30A.

[106] HP 63/14/26A.

[107] 'expresse im text stehet, dz derselbe geist sey der geist Gottes gewesen, ein absurdum aber ist zu sagen, dz ein chymicus wolle eine quintam essentiam, den Spiritum DEI machen' - HP 63/14/33A, n.d.

[108] Genesis 1:26-30. I use the plural advisedly: 'male and female created he them', though the creation of Eve is not mentioned until the next chapter.

[109] Genesis 3:22-3.

[110] Genesis 11:6-7.

[111] The fullest accounts are at HP 31/18/29B-30A and 31/18/40B-41A.

[112] Reproduced in Glauberus Concentratus oder Kern der Glauberischen Schrifften (Leipzig and Breslau, 1715), 465-6.

[113] 'ein [Wasser] […] in welchem [Wasser] die allgemeine Lebens-Speise der [Luft] verborgen' - Glauberus Concentratus, 465.

[114] 'die astralisch lebendig-machende Sonnen-Strahlen […] sichtlich/ greifflich/ corporalisch und fix' - ibid.

[115] Hartlib to Boyle, 5 April 1659, Works VI, 117.

[116] 'Fur die communicata ex MS Morianis de Concentrandu Spiritu Mundi bedancke Ich mich gar herzlich […] es saget aber H Morian in dieser Description vnter Andern Er habe dem H. vor diesem eine weisse entdecket, durch Calcinirte Kiesel-steine […] dz wasser der luft zu fangen […] als bitte Ich solchen aufzusuchen vnd ehestes zu vbersenden' - Poleman to Hartlib, 5 Dec. 1659, HP 60/4/159A.

[117] In Latin passages, the term consistently used is 'silices', in German, 'Kießlinge'.

[118] Link, Glauber, 103-4.

[119] Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Works III, 289.

[120] James Holstun, A Rational Millennium, 308-15.

[121] Ibid., 309-10, citing Comenius, The Great Didactic (trans. M.W. Keatinge from Didactica magna (Amsterdam, 1657)) (New York, 1967), 293-4.

[122] Genesis 1:2.

[123] John, 1:1.

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