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Title: Alchemy: Ancient and Modern - Being a Brief Account of the Alchemistic Doctrines, and - Their Relations, to Mysticism on the One Hand, and ...
Author: Redgrove, H. Stanley (Herbert Stanley), 1887-1943
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: PLATE 1.







  H. STANLEY REDGROVE, B.Sc. (Lond.), F.C.S.








  _First published_      1911
  _Second Edition_       1922


It is exceedingly gratifying to me that a second edition of this book
should be called for. But still more welcome is the change in the
attitude of the educated world towards the old-time alchemists and their
theories which has taken place during the past few years.

The theory of the origin of Alchemy put forward in Chapter I has led to
considerable discussion; but whilst this theory has met with general
acceptance, some of its earlier critics took it as implying far more
than is actually the case. As a result of further research my conviction
of its truth has become more fully confirmed, and in my recent work
entitled _Bygone Beliefs_ (Rider, 1920), under the title of “The Quest
of the Philosopher’s Stone,” I have found it possible to adduce further
evidence in this connection. At the same time, whilst I became
increasingly convinced that the main alchemistic hypotheses were drawn
from the domain of mystical theology and applied to physics and
chemistry by way of analogy, it also became evident to me that the crude
physiology of bygone ages and remnants of the old phallic faith formed a
further and subsidiary source of alchemistic theory. I have barely, if
at all, touched on this matter in the present work; the reader who is
interested will find it dealt with in some detail in “The Phallic
Element in Alchemical Doctrine” in my _Bygone Beliefs_.

In view of recent research in the domain of Radioactivity and the
consequent advance in knowledge that has resulted since this book was
first published, I have carefully considered the advisability of
rewriting the whole of the last chapter, but came to the conclusion that
the time for this was not yet ripe, and that, apart from a few minor
emendations, the chapter had better remain very much as it originally
stood. My reason for this course was that, whilst considerably more is
known to-day, than was the case in 1911, concerning the very complex
transmutations undergone spontaneously by the radioactive
elements--knowledge helping further to elucidate the problem of the
constitution of the so-called “elements” of the chemist--the problem
really cognate to my subject, namely that of effecting a transmutation
of one element into another at will, remains in almost the same state of
indeterminateness as in 1911. In 1913, Sir William Ramsay[1] thought he
had obtained evidence for the transmutation of hydrogen into helium by
the action of the electric discharge, and Professors Collie and
Patterson[2] thought they had obtained evidence of the transmutation of
hydrogen into neon by similar means. But these observations (as well as
Sir William Ramsay’s earlier transmutational experiments) failed to be
satisfactorily confirmed;[3] and since the death of the latter, little,
if anything, appears to have been done to settle the questions raised by
his experiments. Reference must, however, be made to a very interesting
investigation by Sir Ernest Rutherford on the “Collision of α-Particles
with Light Atoms,”[4] from which it appears certain that when bombarded
with the swiftly-moving α-particles given off by radium-C, the atoms of
nitrogen may be disintegrated, one of the products being hydrogen. The
other product is possibly helium,[5] though this has not been proved. In
view of Rutherford’s results a further repetition of Ramsay’s
experiments would certainly appear to be advisable.

    [1] See his “The Presence of Helium in the Gas from the Interior of
    an X-Ray Bulb,” _Journal of the Chemical Society_, vol. ciii.
    (1913), pp. 264 _et seq._

    [2] See their “The Presence of Neon in Hydrogen after the Passage of
    the Electric Discharge through the latter at Low Pressures,”
    _ibid._, pp. 419 _et seq._; and “The Production of Neon and Helium
    by the Electric Discharge,” _Proceedings of the Royal Society_, _A_,
    vol. xci. (1915), pp. 30 _et seq._

    [3] See especially the report of negative experiments by Mr. A. C.
    G. Egerton, published in _Proceedings of the Royal Society_, _A_,
    vol. xci. (1915), pp. 180 _et seq._

    [4] See the _Philosophical Magazine_ for June, 1919, 6th Series,
    vol. xxxvii. pp. 537-587.

    [5] Or perhaps an isotope of helium (see below).

As concerns the spontaneous transmutations undergone by the radioactive
elements, the facts appear to indicate (or, at least, can be brought
into some sort of order by supposing) the atom to consist of a central
nucleus and an outer shell, as suggested by Sir Ernest Rutherford. The
nucleus may be compared to the sun of a solar system. It is excessively
small, but in it the mass of the atom is almost entirely concentrated.
It is positively charged, the charge being neutralised by that of the
free electrons which revolve like planets about it, and which by their
orbits account for the volume of the atom. The atomic weight of the
element depends upon the central sun; but the chemical properties of the
element are determined by the number of electrons in the shell; this
number is the same as that representing the position of the element in
the periodic system. Radioactive change originates in the atomic
nucleus. The expulsion of an α-particle therefrom decreases the atomic
weight by 4 units, necessitates (since the α-particle carries two
positive charges) the removal of two electrons from the shell in order
to maintain electrical neutrality, and hence changes the chemical nature
of the body, transmuting the element into one occupying a position two
places to the left in the periodic system (for example, the change of
radium into niton). But radioactivity sometimes results in the expulsion
of a β-particle from the nucleus. This results in the addition of an
electron to the shell, and hence changes the chemical character of the
element, transmuting it into one occupying a position one place to the
right in the periodic system, but _without altering its atomic weight_.
Consequently, the expulsion of one α- and two β-particles from the
nucleus, whilst decreasing the atomic weight of the element by 4, leaves
the number of electrons in the shell, and thus the chemical properties
of the element, unaltered. These remarkable conclusions are amply borne
out by the facts, and the discovery of elements (called “isobares”)
having the same atomic weight but different chemical properties, and of
those (called “isotopes”) having identical chemical characters but
different atomic weights, must be regarded as one of the most
significant and important discoveries of recent years. Some further
reference to this theory will be found in §§ 77 and 81: the reader who
wishes to follow the matter further should consult the fourth edition of
Professor Frederick Soddy’s _The Interpretation of Radium_ (1920), and
the two chapters on the subject in his _Science and Life_ (1920), one of
which is a popular exposition and the other a more technical one.

These advances in knowledge all point to the possibility of effecting
transmutations at will, but so far attempts to achieve this, as I have
already indicated, cannot be regarded as altogether satisfactory.
Several methods of making gold, or rather elements chemically identical
with gold, once the method of controlling radioactive change is
discovered (as assuredly it will be) are suggested by Sir Ernest
Rutherford’s theory of the nuclear atom. Thus, the expulsion of two
α-particles from bismuth or one from thallium would yield the required
result. Or lead could be converted into mercury by the expulsion of one
α-particle, and this into thallium by the expulsion of one β-particle,
yielding gold by the further expulsion of an α-particle. But, as
Professor Soddy remarks in his _Science and Life_ just referred to, “if
man ever achieves this further control over Nature, it is quite certain
that the last thing he would want to do would be to turn lead or mercury
into gold--_for the sake of gold_. The energy that would be liberated,
if the control of these sub-atomic processes were as possible as is the
control of ordinary chemical changes, such as combustion, would far
exceed in importance and value the gold. Rather it would pay to
transmute gold into silver or some base metal.”

In § 101 of the book I suggest that the question of the effect on the
world of finance of the discovery of an inexpensive method of
transmuting base metal into gold on a large scale is one that should
appeal to a novelist specially gifted with imagination. Since the words
were first written a work has appeared in which something approximating
to what was suggested has been attempted and very admirably achieved. My
reference is to Mr. H. G. Wells’s novel, _The World Set Free_, published
in 1914.

In conclusion I should like to thank the very many reviewers who found
so many good things to say concerning the first edition of this book.
For kind assistance in reading the proofs of this edition my best thanks
are due also and are hereby tendered to my wife, and my good friend
Gerald Druce, Esq., M.Sc.

  H. S. R.

  _October_, 1921.


The number of books in the English language dealing with the interesting
subject of Alchemy is not sufficiently great to render an apology
necessary for adding thereto. Indeed, at the present time there is an
actual need for a further contribution on this subject. The time is gone
when it was regarded as perfectly legitimate to point to Alchemy as an
instance of the aberrations of the human mind. Recent experimental
research has brought about profound modifications in the scientific
notions regarding the chemical elements, and, indeed, in the scientific
concept of the physical universe itself; and a certain resemblance can
be traced between these later views and the theories of bygone Alchemy.
The spontaneous change of one “element” into another has been witnessed,
and the recent work of Sir William Ramsay suggests the possibility of
realising the old alchemistic dream--the transmutation of the “base”
metals into gold.

The basic idea permeating all the alchemistic theories appears to have
been this: All the metals (and, indeed, all forms of matter) are one in
origin, and are produced by an evolutionary process. The Soul of them
all is one and the same; it is only the Soul that is permanent; the
body or outward form, _i.e._, the mode of manifestation of the Soul, is
transitory, and one form may be transmuted into another. The similarity,
indeed it might be said, the identity, between this view and the modern
etheric theory of matter is at once apparent.

The old alchemists reached the above conclusion by a theoretical method,
and attempted to demonstrate the validity of their theory by means of
experiment; in which, it appears, they failed. Modern science, adopting
the reverse process, for a time lost hold of the idea of the unity of
the physical universe, to gain it once again by the experimental method.
It was in the elaboration of this grand fundamental idea that Alchemy
failed. If I were asked to contrast Alchemy with the chemical and
physical science of the nineteenth century I would say that, whereas the
latter abounded in a wealth of much accurate detail and much relative
truth, it lacked philosophical depth and insight; whilst Alchemy,
deficient in such accurate detail, was characterised by a greater degree
of philosophical depth and insight; for the alchemists did grasp the
fundamental truth of the Cosmos, although they distorted it and made it
appear grotesque. The alchemists cast their theories in a mould entirely
fantastic, even ridiculous--they drew unwarrantable analogies--and hence
their views cannot be accepted in these days of modern science. But if
we cannot approve of their theories _in toto_, we can nevertheless
appreciate the fundamental ideas at the root of them. And it is
primarily with the object of pointing out this similarity between these
ancient ideas regarding the physical universe and the latest products
of scientific thought, that this book has been written.

It is a regrettable fact that the majority of works dealing with the
subject of Alchemy take a one-sided point of view. The chemists
generally take a purely physical view of the subject, and instead of
trying to understand its mystical language, often (I do not say always)
prefer to label it nonsense and the alchemist a fool. On the other hand,
the mystics, in many cases, take a purely transcendental view of the
subject, forgetting the fact that the alchemists were, for the most
part, concerned with operations of a physical nature. For a proper
understanding of Alchemy, as I hope to make plain in the first chapter
of this work, a synthesis of both points of view is essential; and,
since these two aspects are so intimately and essentially connected with
one another, this is necessary even when, as in the following work, one
is concerned primarily with the physical, rather than the purely
mystical, aspect of the subject.

Now, the author of this book may lay claim to being a humble student of
both Chemistry and what may be generalised under the terms Mysticism and
Transcendentalism; and he hopes that this perhaps rather unusual
combination of studies has enabled him to take a broad-minded view of
the theories of the alchemists, and to adopt a sympathetic attitude
towards them.

With regard to the illustrations, the author must express his thanks to
the authorities of the British Museum for permission to photograph
engraved portraits and illustrations from old works in the British
Museum Collections, and to G. H. Gabb, Esq., F.C.S., for permission to
photograph engraved portraits in his possession.

The author’s heartiest thanks are also due to Frank E. Weston, Esq.,
B.Sc., F.C.S., and W. G. Llewellyn, Esq., for their kind help in reading
the proofs, &c.

  H. S. R.

  _October, 1910._


  CHAPTER I. THE MEANING OF ALCHEMY                           1

    § 1.  The Aim of Alchemy                                  1
    § 2.  The Transcendental Theory of Alchemy                2
    § 3.  Failure of the Transcendental Theory                3
    § 4.  The Qualifications of the Adept                     4
    § 5.  Alchemistic Language                                5
    § 6.  Alchemists of a Mystical Type                       7
    § 7.  The Meaning of Alchemy                              7
    § 8.  Opinions of other Writers                           8
    § 9.  The Basic Idea of Alchemy                          10
   § 10.  The Law of Analogy                                 12
   § 11.  The Dual Nature of Alchemy                         13
   § 12.  “Body, Soul and Spirit”                            14
   § 13.  Alchemy, Mysticism and Modern Science              15


   § 14.  Supposed Proofs of Transmutation                   17
   § 15.  The Alchemistic Elements                           18
   § 16.  Aristotle’s Views regarding the Elements           19
   § 17.  The Sulphur-Mercury Theory                         20
   § 18.  The Sulphur-Mercury-Salt Theory                    22
   § 19.  Alchemistic Elements and Principles                23
   § 20.  The Growth of the Metals                           25
   § 21.  Alchemy and Astrology                              26
   § 22.  Alchemistic View of the Nature of Gold             27
   § 23.  The Philosopher’s Stone                            29
   § 24.  The Nature of the Philosopher’s Stone              30
   § 25.  The Theory of Development                          32
   § 26.  The Powers of the Philosopher’s Stone              34
   § 27.  The Elixir of Life                                 35
   § 28.  The Practical Methods of the Alchemists            36


   § 29.  Hermes Trismegistos                                39
   § 30.  The Smaragdine Table                               40
   § 31.  Zosimus of Panopolis                               42
   § 32.  Geber                                              42
   § 33.  Other Arabian Alchemists                           44
   § 34.  Albertus Magnus                                    44
   § 35.  Thomas Aquinas                                     44
   § 36.  Roger Bacon                                        45
   § 37.  Arnold de Villanova                                47
   § 38.  Raymond Lully                                      47
   § 39.  Peter Bonus                                        49
   § 40.  Nicolas Flamel                                     51
   § 41.  “Basil Valentine” and the _Triumphal Chariot of
          Antimony_.                                         52
   § 42.  Isaac of Holland                                   53
   § 43.  Bernard Trévisan                                   54
   § 44.  Sir George Ripley                                  55
   § 45.  Thomas Norton                                      56


   § 46.  Paracelsus                                         58
   § 47.  Views of Paracelsus                                60
   § 48.  Iatro-chemistry                                    61
   § 49.  The Rosicrucian Society                            62
   § 50.  Thomas Charnock                                    65
   § 51.  Andreas Libavius                                   66
   § 52.  Edward Kelley and John Dee                         67
   § 53.  Henry Khunrath                                     70
   § 54.  Alexander Sethon and Michael Sendivogius           70
   § 55.  Michael Maier                                      72
   § 56.  Jacob Boehme                                       74
   § 57.  J. B. van Helmont and F. M. van Helmont            75
   § 58.  Johann Rudolf Glauber                              77
   § 59.  Thomas Vaughan (“Eugenius Philalethes”)            77
   § 60.  “Eirenæus Philalethes” and George Starkey          79

  CHAPTER V. THE OUTCOME OF ALCHEMY                          81

   § 61.  Did the Alchemists achieve the _Magnum Opus_?      81
   § 62.  The Testimony of van Helmont                       82
   § 63.  The Testimony of Helvetius                         83
   § 64.  Helvetius obtains the Philosopher’s Stone          85
   § 65.  Helvetius performs a Transmutation                 87
   § 66.  Helvetius’s Gold Assayed                           88
   § 67.  Helvetius’s Gold Further Tested                    88
   § 68.  The Genesis of Chemistry                           89
   § 69.  The Degeneracy of Alchemy                          90
   § 70.  “Count Cagliostro”                                 91


   § 71.  The Birth of Modern Chemistry                      94
   § 72.  The Phlogiston Theory                              94
   § 73.  Boyle and the Definition of an Element             96
   § 74.  The Stoichiometric Laws                            96
   § 75.  Dalton’s Atomic Theory                             99
   § 76.  The Determination of the Atomic Weights of the
          Elements                                          102
   § 77.  Prout’s Hypothesis                                102
   § 78.  The “Periodic Law”                                105
   § 79.  The Corpuscular Theory of Matter                  109
   § 80.  Proof that the Electrons are not Matter           110
   § 81.  The Electronic Theory of Matter                   112
   § 82.  The Etheric Theory of Matter                      113
   § 83.  Further Evidence of the Complexity of the Atoms   114
   § 84.  Views of Wald and Ostwald                         115

  CHAPTER VII. MODERN ALCHEMY                               117

   § 85.  “Modern Alchemy”                                  117
   § 86.  X-Rays and Becquerel Rays                         117
   § 87.  The Discovery of Radium                           118
   § 88.  Chemical Properties of Radium                     119
   § 89.  The Radioactivity of Radium                       120
   § 90.  The Disintegration of the Radium Atom             122
   § 91.  “Induced Radioactivity”                           123
   § 92.  Properties of Uranium and Thorium                 123
   § 93.  The Radium Emanation                              124
   § 94.  The Production of Helium from Emanation           125
   § 95.  Nature of this Change                             127
   § 96.  Is this Change a true Transmutation?              128
   § 97.  The Production of Neon from Emanation             130
   § 98.  Ramsay’s Experiments on Copper                    132
   § 99.  Further Experiments on Radium and Copper          134
  § 100.  Ramsay’s Experiments on Thorium and allied Metals 134
  § 101.  The Possibility of Making Gold                    136
  § 102.  The Significance of “Allotropy”                   136
  § 103.  Conclusion                                        142


  PLATE 1. Portrait of Paracelsus                        _Frontispiece_

                                                           TO FACE PAGE

  PLATE  2. Symbolical Illustration representing the Trinity of
            Body, Soul and Spirit                                    15

  PLATE  3. Symbolical Illustrations representing--
            (A) The Fertility of the Earth           }               26
            (B) The Amalgamation of Mercury and Gold }

  PLATE  4. Symbolical Illustrations representing--
            (A) The Coction of Gold-Amalgam in a Closed Vessel }     33
            (B) The Transmutation of the Metals                }

  PLATE  5. Alchemistic Apparatus--
            (A) (B) Two forms of apparatus for sublimation           37

  PLATE  6. Alchemistic Apparatus--
            (A) An Athanor }                                         38
            (B) A Pelican  }

  PLATE  7. Portrait of Albertus Magnus                              44

  PLATE  8. Portraits of--
            (A) Thomas Aquinas }                                     52
            (B) Nicolas Flamel }

  PLATE  9. Portraits of--
            (A) Edward Kelley }                                      68
            (B) John Dee      }

  PLATE 10. Portrait of Michael Maier                                72

  PLATE 11. Portrait of Jacob Boehme                                 74

  PLATE 12. Portraits of J. B. and F. M. van Helmont                 76

  PLATE 13. Portrait of J. F. Helvetius                              84

  PLATE 14. Portrait of “Cagliostro”                                 92

  PLATE 15. Portrait of Robert Boyle                                 94

  PLATE 16. Portrait of John Dalton                                 100

  ELEMENTS                                               Pages 106, 107





The Aim of Alchemy.

§ =1.= Alchemy is generally understood to have been that art whose end
was the transmutation of the so-called base metals into gold by means of
an ill-defined something called the Philosopher’s Stone; but even from a
purely physical standpoint, this is a somewhat superficial view. Alchemy
was both a philosophy and an experimental science, and the transmutation
of the metals was its end only in that this would give the final proof
of the alchemistic hypotheses; in other words, Alchemy, considered from
the physical standpoint, was the attempt to demonstrate experimentally
on the material plane the validity of a certain philosophical view of
the Cosmos. We see the genuine scientific spirit in the saying of one of
the alchemists: “Would to God . . . all men might become adepts in our
Art--for then gold, the great idol of mankind, would lose its value, and
we should prize it only for its scientific teaching.”[6] Unfortunately,
however, not many alchemists came up to this ideal; and for the majority
of them, Alchemy did mean merely the possibility of making gold cheaply
and gaining untold wealth.

    [6] “EIRENÆUS PHILALETHES”: _An Open Entrance to the Closed Palace
    of the King_ (see _The Hermetic Museum, Restored and Enlarged_,
    edited by A. E. Waite, 1893, vol. ii. p. 178).

The Transcendental Theory of Alchemy.

§ =2.= By some mystics, however, the opinion has been expressed that
Alchemy was not a physical art or science at all, that in no sense was
its object the manufacture of material gold, and that its processes were
not carried out on the physical plane. According to this transcendental
theory, Alchemy was concerned with man’s soul, its object was the
perfection, not of material substances, but of man in a spiritual sense.
Those who hold this view identify Alchemy with, or at least regard it as
a branch of, Mysticism, from which it is supposed to differ merely by
the employment of a special language; and they hold that the writings of
the alchemists must not be understood literally as dealing with chemical
operations, with furnaces, retorts, alembics, pelicans and the like,
with salt, sulphur, mercury, gold and other material substances, but
must be understood as grand allegories dealing with spiritual truths.
According to this view, the figure of the transmutation of the “base”
metals into gold symbolised the salvation of man--the transmutation of
his soul into spiritual gold--which was to be obtained by the
elimination of evil and the development of good by the grace of God; and
the realisation of which salvation or spiritual transmutation may be
described as the New Birth, or that condition of being known as union
with the Divine. It would follow, of course, if this theory were true,
that the genuine alchemists were pure mystics, and hence, that the
development of chemical science was not due to their labours, but to
pseudo-alchemists who so far misunderstood their writings as to have
interpreted them in a literal sense.

Failure of the Transcendental Theory.

§ =3.= This theory, however, has been effectively disposed of by Mr.
Arthur Edward Waite, who points to the lives of the alchemists
themselves in refutation of it. For their lives indisputably prove that
the alchemists were occupied with chemical operations on the physical
plane, and that for whatever motive, they toiled to discover a method
for transmuting the commoner metals into actual, material gold. As
Paracelsus himself says of the true “spagyric physicians,” who were the
alchemists of his period: “These do not give themselves up to ease and
idleness . . . But they devote themselves diligently to their labours,
sweating whole nights over fiery furnaces. These do not kill the time
with empty talk, but find their delight in their laboratory.”[7] The
writings of the alchemists contain (mixed, however, with much that from
the physical standpoint appears merely fantastic) accurate accounts of
many chemical processes and discoveries, which cannot be explained away
by any method of transcendental interpretation. There is not the
slightest doubt that chemistry owes its origin to the direct labours of
the alchemists themselves, and not to any who misread their writings.

    [7] PARACELSUS: “Concerning the Nature of Things” (see _The Hermetic
    and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus_, edited by A. E. Waite, 1894,
    vol. i. p. 167).

The Qualifications of the Adept.

§ =4.= At the same time, it is quite evident that there is a
considerable element of Mysticism in the alchemistic doctrines; this has
always been recognised; but, as a general rule, those who have
approached the subject from the scientific point of view have considered
this mystical element as of little or no importance. However, there are
certain curious facts which are not satisfactorily explained by a purely
physical theory of Alchemy, and, in our opinion, the recognition of the
importance of this mystical element and of the true relation which
existed between Alchemy and Mysticism is essential for the right
understanding of the subject. We may notice, in the first place, that
the alchemists always speak of their Art as a Divine Gift, the highest
secrets of which are not to be learnt from any books on the subject; and
they invariably teach that the right mental attitude with regard to God
is the first step necessary for the achievement of the _magnum opus_. As
says one alchemist: “In the first place, let every devout and
God-fearing chemist and student of this Art consider that this arcanum
should be regarded, not only as a truly great, but as a most holy Art
(seeing that it typifies and shadows out the highest heavenly good).
Therefore, if any man desire to reach this great and unspeakable
Mystery, he must remember that it is obtained not by the might of man,
but by the grace of God, and that not our will or desire, but only the
mercy of the Most High, can bestow it upon us. For this reason you must
first of all cleanse your heart, lift it up to Him alone, and ask of
Him this gift in true, earnest, and undoubting prayer. He alone can give
and bestow it.”[8] And “Basil Valentine”: “First, there should be the
invocation of God, flowing from the depth of a pure and sincere heart,
and a conscience which should be free from all ambition, hypocrisy, and
vice, as also from all cognate faults, such as arrogance, boldness,
pride, luxury, worldly vanity, oppression of the poor, and similar
iniquities, which should all be rooted up out of the heart--that when a
man appears before the Throne of Grace, to regain the health of his
body, he may come with a conscience weeded of all tares, and be changed
into a pure temple of God cleansed of all that defiles.”[9]

    [8] _The Sophic Hydrolith; or, Water Stone of the Wise_ (see _The
    Hermetic Museum_, vol. i. p. 74).

    [9] _The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony_ (Mr. A. E. Waite’s
    translation, p. 13). See § 41.

Alchemistic Language.

§ =5.= In the second place, we must notice the nature of alchemistic
language. As we have hinted above, and as is at once apparent on opening
any alchemistic book, the language of Alchemy is very highly mystical,
and there is much that is perfectly unintelligible in a physical sense.
Indeed, the alchemists habitually apologise for their vagueness on the
plea that such mighty secrets may not be made more fully manifest. It is
true, of course, that in the days of Alchemy’s degeneracy a good deal of
pseudo-mystical nonsense was written by the many impostors then
abounding, but the mystical style of language is by no means confined to
the later alchemistic writings. It is also true that the alchemists, no
doubt, desired to shield their secrets from vulgar and profane eyes, and
hence would necessarily adopt a symbolic language. But it is past belief
that the language of the alchemist was due to some arbitrary plan;
whatever it is to us, it was very real to him. Moreover, this argument
cuts both ways, for those, also, who take a transcendental view of
Alchemy regard its language as symbolical, although after a different
manner. It is also, to say the least, curious, as Mr. A. E. Waite points
out, that this mystical element should be found in the writings of the
earlier alchemists, whose manuscripts were not written for publication,
and therefore ran no risk of informing the vulgar of the precious
secrets of Alchemy. On the other hand, the transcendental method of
translation does often succeed in making sense out of what is otherwise
unintelligible in the writings of the alchemists. The above-mentioned
writer remarks on this point: “Without in any way pretending to assert
that this hypothesis reduces the literary chaos of the philosophers into
a regular order, it may be affirmed that it materially elucidates their
writings, and that it is wonderful how contradictions, absurdities, and
difficulties seem to dissolve wherever it is applied.”[10]

    [10] ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE: _The Occult Sciences_ (1891), p. 91.

The alchemists’ love of symbolism is also conspicuously displayed in the
curious designs with which certain of their books are embellished. We
are not here referring to the illustrations of actual apparatus employed
in carrying out the various operations of physical Alchemy, which are
not infrequently found in the works of those alchemists who at the same
time were practical chemists (Glauber, for example), but to pictures
whose meaning plainly lies not upon the surface and whose import is
clearly symbolical, whether their symbolism has reference to physical or
to spiritual processes. Examples of such symbolic illustrations, many of
which are highly fantastic, will be found in plates 2, 3, and 4. We
shall refer to them again in the course of the present and following

Alchemists of a Mystical Type.

§ =6.= We must also notice that, although there cannot be the slightest
doubt that the great majority of alchemists were engaged in problems and
experiments of a physical nature, yet there were a few men included
within the alchemistic ranks who were entirely, or almost entirely,
concerned with problems of a spiritual nature; Thomas Vaughan, for
example, and Jacob Boehme, who boldly employed the language of Alchemy
in the elaboration of his system of mystical philosophy. And
particularly must we notice, as Mr. A. E. Waite has also indicated, the
significant fact that the Western alchemists make unanimous appeal to
Hermes Trismegistos as the greatest authority on the art of Alchemy,
whose alleged writings are of an undoubtedly mystical character (see §
29). It is clear, that in spite of its apparently physical nature,
Alchemy must have been in some way closely connected with Mysticism.

The Meaning of Alchemy.

§ =7.= If we are ever to understand the meaning of Alchemy aright we
must look at the subject from the alchemistic point of view. In modern
times there has come about a divorce between Religion and Science in
men’s minds (though more recently a unifying tendency has set in); but
it was otherwise with the alchemists, their religion and their science
were closely united. We have said that “Alchemy was the attempt to
demonstrate experimentally on the material plane the validity of a
certain philosophical view of the Cosmos”; now, this “philosophical view
of the Cosmos” was Mysticism. =Alchemy had its origin in the attempt to
apply, in a certain manner, the principles of Mysticism to the things of
the physical plane=, and was, therefore, of a dual nature, on the one
hand spiritual and religious, on the other, physical and material. As
the anonymous author of _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_ (1815)
remarks, “The universal chemistry, by which the science of alchemy opens
the knowledge of all nature, being founded on _first principles_ forms
analogy with whatever knowledge is founded on the _same first
principles_. . . . Saint John describes the redemption, or the new
creation of the fallen soul, on the _same first principles_, until the
consummation of the work, in which the Divine tincture transmutes the
base metal of the soul into a perfection, that will pass the fire of
eternity;”[11] that is to say, Alchemy and the mystical regeneration of
man (in this writer’s opinion) are analogous processes on different
planes of being, because they are founded on the same first principles.

    [11] F. B.: _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_ (1815), Preface,
    p. 3.

Opinions of other Writers.

§ =8.= We shall here quote the opinions of two modern writers, as to the
significance of Alchemy; one a mystic, the other a man of science. Says
Mr. A. E. Waite, “If the authors of the ‘Suggestive Inquiry’ and of
‘Remarks on Alchemy and the Alchemists’ [two books putting forward the
transcendental theory] had considered the lives of the symbolists, as
well as the nature of the symbols, their views would have been very much
modified; they would have found that the true method of Hermetic
interpretation lies in a middle course; but the errors which originated
with merely typographical investigations were intensified by a
consideration of the great alchemical theorem, which, _par excellence_,
is one of universal development, which acknowledges that every substance
contains undeveloped resources and potentialities, and can be brought
outward and forward into perfection. They [the generality of alchemists]
applied their theory only to the development of metallic substances from
a lower to a higher order, but we see by their writings that the grand
hierophants of Oriental and Western alchemy alike were continually
haunted by brief and imperfect glimpses of glorious possibilities for
man, if the evolution of his nature were accomplished along the lines of
their theory.”[12] Mr. M. M. Pattison Muir, M.A., says: “. . . alchemy
aimed at giving experimental proof of a certain theory of the whole
system of nature, including humanity. The practical culmination of the
alchemical quest presented a threefold aspect; the alchemists sought the
stone of wisdom, for by gaining that they gained the control of wealth;
they sought the universal panacea, for that would give them the power of
enjoying wealth and life; they sought the soul of the world, for thereby
they could hold communion with spiritual existences, and enjoy the
fruition of spiritual life. The object of their search was to satisfy
their material needs, their intellectual capacities, and their spiritual
yearnings. The alchemists of the nobler sort always made the first of
these objects subsidiary to the other two. . . .”[13]

    [12] ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE: _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_
    (1888), pp. 30, 31. As says another writer of the mystical school of
    thought: “If we look upon the subject [of Alchymy] from the point
    which affords the widest view, it may be said that Alchymy has two
    aspects: the simply material, and the religious. The dogma that
    Alchymy was only a form of chemistry is untenable by any one who has
    read the works of its chief professors. The doctrine that Alchymy
    was religion only, and that its chemical references were all blinds,
    is equally untenable in the face of history, which shows that many
    of its most noted professors were men who had made important
    discoveries in the domain of common chemistry, and were in no way
    notable as teachers either of ethics or religion” (“Sapere Aude,”
    _The Science of Alchymy, Spiritual and Material_ (1893), pp. 3 and

    [13] M. M. PATTISON MUIR, M.A.: _The Story of Alchemy and the
    Beginnings of Chemistry_ (1902), pp. 105 and 106.

The Basic Idea of Alchemy.

§ =9.= The famous axiom beloved by every alchemist--“_What is above is
as that which is below, and what is below is as that which is
above_”--although of questionable origin, tersely expresses the basic
idea of Alchemy. The alchemists postulated and believed in a very real
sense in the essential unity of the Cosmos. Hence, they held that there
is a correspondence or analogy existing between things spiritual and
things physical, the same laws operating in each realm. As writes
Sendivogius “. . . the Sages have been taught of God that this natural
world is only an image and material copy of a heavenly and spiritual
pattern; that the very existence of this world is based upon the reality
of its celestial archetype; and that God has created it in imitation of
the spiritual and invisible universe, in order that men might be the
better enabled to comprehend His heavenly teaching, and the wonders of
His absolute and ineffable power and wisdom. Thus the Sage sees heaven
reflected in Nature as in a mirror; and he pursues this Art, not for the
sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it
reveals; he jealously conceals it from the sinner and the scornful, lest
the mysteries of heaven should be laid bare to the vulgar gaze.”[14]

    [14] MICHAEL SENDIVOGIUS: _The New Chemical Light, Pt. II.,
    Concerning Sulphur_ (_The Hermetic Museum_, vol. ii. p. 138).

The alchemists held that the metals are one in essence, and spring from
the same seed in the womb of nature, but are not all equally matured and
perfect, gold being the highest product of Nature’s powers. In gold, the
alchemist saw a picture of the regenerate man, resplendent with
spiritual beauty, overcoming all temptations and proof against evil;
whilst he regarded lead--the basest of the metals--as typical of the
sinful and unregenerate man, stamped with the hideousness of sin and
easily overcome by temptation and evil; for whilst gold withstood the
action of fire and all known corrosive liquids (save _aqua regia_
alone), lead was most easily acted upon. We are told that the
Philosopher’s Stone, which would bring about the desired grand
transmutation, is of a species with gold itself and purer than the
purest; understood in the mystical sense this means that the
regeneration of man can be effected only by Goodness itself--in terms of
Christian theology, by the Power of the Spirit of Christ. The
Philosopher’s Stone was regarded as symbolical of Christ Jesus, and in
this sense we can understand the otherwise incredible powers attributed
to it.

The Law of Analogy.

§ =10.= With the theories of physical Alchemy we shall deal at length in
the following chapter, but enough has been said to indicate the analogy
existing, according to the alchemistic view, between the problem of the
perfection of the metals, _i.e._, the transmutation of the “base” metals
into gold, and the perfection or transfiguration of spiritual man; and
it might also be added, between these problems and that of the
perfection of man considered physiologically. To the alchemistic
philosopher these three problems were one: the same problem on different
planes of being; and the solution was likewise one. He who held the key
to one problem held the key to all three, provided he understood the
analogy between matter and spirit. The point is not, be it noted,
whether these problems are in reality one and the same; the main
doctrine of analogy, which is, indeed, an essential element in all true
mystical philosophy, will, we suppose, meet with general consent; but it
will be contended (and rightly, we think) that the analogies drawn by
the alchemists are fantastic and by no means always correct, though
possibly there may be more truth in them than appears at first sight.
The point is not that these analogies are correct, but that they were
regarded as such by all true alchemists. Says the author of _The Sophic
Hydrolith_: “. . . the practice of this Art enables us to understand,
not merely the marvels of Nature, but the nature of God Himself, in all
its unspeakable glory. It shadows forth, in a wonderful manner . . . all
the articles of the Christian faith, and the reason why man must pass
through much tribulation and anguish, and fall a prey to death, before
he can rise again to a new life.”[15] A considerable portion of this
curious alchemistic work is taken up in expounding the analogy believed
to exist between the Philosopher’s Stone and “the Stone which the
builders rejected,” Christ Jesus; and the writer concludes: “Thus . . .
I have briefly and simply set forth to you the perfect analogy which
exists between our earthly and chemical and the true and heavenly Stone,
Jesus Christ, whereby we may attain unto certain beatitude and
perfection, not only in earthly but also in eternal life.”[16] And
likewise says Peter Bonus: “I am firmly persuaded that any unbeliever
who got truly to know this Art, would straightway confess the truth of
our Blessed Religion, and believe in the Trinity and in our Lord Jesus

    [15] _The Sophic Hydrolith; or, Water Stone of the Wise_ (see _The
    Hermetic Museum_, vol. i. p. 88).

    [16] _Ibid._ p. 114.

    [17] PETER BONUS: _The New Pearl of Great Price_ (Mr. A. E. Waite’s
    translation, p. 275).

The Dual Nature of Alchemy.

§ =11.= For the most part, the alchemists were chiefly engaged with the
carrying out of the alchemistic theory on the physical plane, _i.e._,
with the attempt to transmute the “base” metals into the “noble” ones;
some for the love of knowledge, but alas! the vast majority for the love
of mere wealth. But all who were worthy of the title of “alchemist”
realised at times, more or less dimly, the possibility of the
application of the same methods to man and the glorious result of the
transmutation of man’s soul into spiritual gold. There were a few who
had a clearer vision of this ideal, those who devoted their activities
entirely, or almost so, to the attainment of this highest goal of
alchemistic philosophy, and concerned themselves little if at all with
the analogous problem on the physical plane. The theory that Alchemy
originated in the attempt to demonstrate the applicability of the
principles of Mysticism to the things of the physical realm brings into
harmony the physical and transcendental theories of Alchemy and the
various conflicting facts advanced in favour of each. It explains the
existence of the above-mentioned, two very different types of
alchemists. It explains the appeal to the works attributed to Hermes,
and the presence in the writings of the alchemists of much that is
clearly mystical. And finally, it is in agreement with such statements
as we have quoted above from _The Sophic Hydrolith_ and elsewhere, and
the general religious tone of the alchemistic writings.

[Illustration: PLATE 2.


Representing the Trinity of Body, Soul and Spirit.

[_To face page 15_]

“Body, Soul and Spirit.”

§ =12.= In accordance with our primary object as stated in the preface,
we shall confine our attention mainly to the physical aspect of Alchemy;
but in order to understand its theories, it appears to us to be
essential to realise the fact that Alchemy was an attempted application
of the principles of Mysticism to the things of the physical world. The
supposed analogy between man and the metals sheds light on what
otherwise would be very difficult to understand. It helps to make plain
why the alchemists attributed moral qualities to the metals--some are
called “imperfect,” “base”; others are said to be “perfect,” “noble.”
And especially does it help to explain the alchemistic notions
regarding the nature of the metals. The alchemists believed that the
metals were constructed after the manner of man, into whose constitution
three factors were regarded as entering: body, soul, and spirit. As
regards man, mystical philosophers generally use these terms as follows:
“body” is the outward manifestation and form; “soul” is the inward
individual spirit[18]; and “spirit” is the universal Soul in all men.
And likewise, according to the alchemists, in the metals, there is the
“body” or outward form and properties, “metalline soul” or spirit,[19]
and finally, the all-pervading essence of all metals. As writes the
author of the exceedingly curious tract entitled _The Book of
Lambspring_: “Be warned and understand truly that two fishes are
swimming in our sea,” illustrating his remark by the symbolical picture
reproduced in plate 2, and adding in elucidation thereof, “The Sea is
the Body, the two Fishes are Soul and Spirit.”[20] The alchemists,
however, were not always consistent in their use of the term “spirit.”
Sometimes (indeed frequently) they employed it to denote merely the more
volatile portions of a chemical substance; at other times it had a more
interior significance.

    [18] Which, in virtue of man’s self-consciousness, is, by the grace
    of God, immortal.

    [19] See the work _Of Natural and Supernatural Things_, attributed
    to “Basil Valentine,” for a description of the “spirits” of the
    metals in particular.

    [20] _The Book of Lambspring_, translated by Nicholas Barnaud
    Delphinas (see the _Hermetic Museum_, vol. i. p. 277). This work
    contains many other fantastic alchemistic symbolical pictures,
    amongst the most curious series in alchemistic literature.

Alchemy, Mysticism and Modern Science.

§ =13.= We notice the great difference between the alchemistic theory
and the views regarding the constitution of matter which have dominated
Chemistry since the time of Dalton. But at the present time Dalton’s
theory of the chemical elements is undergoing a profound modification.
We do not imply that Modern Science is going back to any such fantastic
ideas as were held by the alchemists, but we are struck with the
remarkable similarity between this alchemistic theory of a soul of all
metals, a one primal element, and modern views regarding the ether of
space. In its attempt to demonstrate the applicability of the
fundamental principles of Mysticism to the things of the physical realm
Alchemy apparently failed and ended its days in fraud. It appears,
however, that this true aim of alchemistic art--particularly the
demonstration of the validity of the theory that all the various forms
of matter are produced by an evolutionary process from some one primal
element or _quintessence_--is being realised by recent researches in the
domain of physical and chemical science.



Supposed Proofs of Transmutation.

§ =14.= It must be borne in mind when reviewing the theories of the
alchemists, that there were a number of phenomena known at the time, the
superficial examination of which would naturally engender a belief that
the transmutation of the metals was a common occurrence. For example,
the deposition of copper on iron when immersed in a solution of a copper
salt (_e.g._, blue vitriol) was naturally concluded to be a
transmutation of iron into copper,[21] although, had the alchemists
examined the residual liquid, they would have found that the two metals
had merely exchanged places; and the fact that white and yellow alloys
of copper with arsenic and other substances could be produced, pointed
to the possibility of transmuting copper into silver and gold. It was
also known that if water (and this is true of distilled water which does
not contain solid matter in solution) was boiled for some time in a
glass flask, some solid, earthy matter was produced; and if water could
be transmuted into earth, surely one metal could be converted into
another.[22] On account of these and like phenomena the alchemists
regarded the transmutation of the metals as an experimentally proved
fact. Even if they are to be blamed for their superficial observation of
such phenomena, yet, nevertheless, their labours marked a distinct
advance upon the purely speculative and theoretical methods of the
philosophers preceding them. Whatever their faults, the alchemists
_were_ the forerunners of modern experimental science.

    [21] Cf. _The Golden Tract concerning the Stone of the Philosophers_
    (_The Hermetic Museum_, vol. i. p. 25).

    [22] Lavoisier (eighteenth century) proved this apparent
    transmutation to be due to the action of the water on the glass
    vessel containing it.

The Alchemistic Elements.

§ =15.= The alchemists regarded the metals as composite, and granting
this, then the possibility of transmutation is only a logical
conclusion. In order to understand the theory of the elements held by
them we must rid ourselves of any idea that it bears any close
resemblance to Dalton’s theory of the chemical elements; this is clear
from what has been said in the preceding chapter. Now, it is a fact of
simple observation that many otherwise different bodies manifest some
property in common, as, for instance, combustibility. Properties such as
these were regarded as being due to some principle or element common to
all bodies exhibiting such properties; thus, combustibility was thought
to be due to some elementary principle of combustion--the “sulphur” of
the alchemists and the “phlogiston” of a later period. This is a view
which _à priori_ appears to be not unlikely; but it is now known that,
although there are relations existing between the properties of bodies
and their constituent chemical elements (and also, it should be noted,
the relative arrangement of the particles of these elements), it is the
less obvious properties which enable chemists to determine the
constitution of bodies, and the connection is very far from being of the
simple nature imagined by the alchemists.

Aristotle’s Views regarding the Elements.

§ =16.= For the origin of the alchemistic theory of the elements it is
necessary to go back to the philosophers preceding the alchemists, and
it is not improbable that they derived it from some still older source.
It was taught by Empedocles of Agrigent (440 B.C. _circa_), who
considered that there were four elements--earth, water, air, and fire.
Aristotle added a fifth, “the ether.” These elements were regarded, not
as different kinds of matter, but rather as different forms of the one
original matter, whereby it manifested different properties. It was
thought that to these elements were due the four primary properties of
dryness, moistness, warmth, and coldness, each element being supposed to
give rise to two of these properties, dryness and warmth being thought
to be due to fire, moistness and warmth to air, moistness and coldness
to water, and dryness and coldness to earth. Thus, moist and cold bodies
(liquids in general) were said to possess these properties in
consequence of the aqueous element, and were termed “waters,” &c. Also,
since these elements were not regarded as different kinds of matter,
transmutation was thought to be possible, one being convertible into
another, as in the example given above (§ 14).

The Sulphur-Mercury Theory.

§ =17.= Coming to the alchemists, we find the view that the metals are
all composed of two elementary principles--sulphur and mercury--in
different proportions and degrees of purity, well-nigh universally
accepted in the earlier days of Alchemy. By these terms “sulphur” and
“mercury,” however, must not be understood the common bodies ordinarily
designated by these names; like the elements of Aristotle, the
alchemistic principles were regarded as properties rather than as
substances, though it must be confessed that the alchemists were by no
means always clear on this point themselves. Indeed, it is not
altogether easy to say exactly what the alchemists did mean by these
terms, and the question is complicated by the fact that very frequently
they make mention of different sorts of “sulphur” and “mercury.”
Probably, however, we shall not be far wrong in saying that “sulphur”
was generally regarded as the principle of combustion and also of
colour, and was said to be present on account of the fact that most
metals are changed into earthy substances by the aid of fire; and to the
“mercury,” the metallic principle _par excellence_, was attributed such
properties as fusibility, malleability and lustre, which were regarded
as characteristic of the metals in general. The pseudo-Geber (see § 32)
says that “Sulphur is a fatness of the Earth, by temperate Decoction in
the Mine of the Earth thickened, until it be hardned and made dry.”[23]
He considered an excess of sulphur to be a cause of imperfection in the
metals, and he writes that one of the causes of the corruption of the
metals by fire “is the Inclusion of a burning Sulphuriety in the
profundity of their Substance, diminishing them by Inflamation, and
exterminating also into Fume, with extream Consumption, whatsoever
Argentvive in them is of good Fixation.”[24] He assumed, further, that
the metals contained an incombustible as well as a combustible sulphur,
the latter sulphur being apparently regarded as an impurity.[25] A later
alchemist says that sulphur is “most easily recognised by the vital
spirit in animals, the colour in metals, the odour in plants.”[26]
Mercury, on the other hand, according to the pseudo-Geber, is the cause
of perfection in the metals, and endows gold with its lustre. Another
alchemist, quoting Arnold de Villanova, writes: “Quicksilver is the
elementary form of all things fusible; for all things fusible, when
melted, are changed into it, and it mingles with them because it is of
the same substance with them. Such bodies differ from quicksilver in
their composition only so far as itself is or is not free from the
foreign matter of impure sulphur.”[27] The obtaining of “philosophical
mercury,” the imaginary virtues of which the alchemists never tired of
relating, was generally held to be essential for the attainment of the
_magnum opus_. It was commonly thought that it could be prepared from
ordinary quicksilver by purificatory processes, whereby the impure
sulphur supposed to be present in this sort of mercury might be purged

    [23] _Of the Sum of Perfection_ (see _The Works of Geber_,
    translated by Richard Russel, 1678, pp. 69 and 70).

    [24] _Of the Sum of Perfection_ (see _The Works of Geber_, p. 156).

    [25] See _The Works of Geber_, p. 160. This view was also held by
    other alchemists.

    [26] _The New Chemical Light_, Part II., _Concerning Sulphur_ (see
    _The Hermetic Museum_, vol. ii. p. 151).

    [27] See _The Golden Tract concerning the Stone of the Philosophers_
    (_The Hermetic Museum_, vol. i. p. 17).

The sulphur-mercury theory of the metals was held by such famous
alchemists as Roger Bacon, Arnold de Villanova and Raymond Lully. Until
recently it was thought to have originated to a great extent with the
Arabian alchemist, Geber; but the late Professor Berthelot showed that
the works ascribed to Geber, in which the theory is put forward, are
forgeries of a date by which it was already centuries old (see § 32).
Occasionally, arsenic was regarded as an elementary principle (this view
is to be found, for example, in the work _Of the Sum of Perfection_, by
the pseudo-Geber), but the idea was not general.

The Sulphur-Mercury-Salt Theory.

§ =18.= Later in the history of Alchemy, the mercury-sulphur theory was
extended by the addition of a third elementary principle, salt. As in
the case of philosophical sulphur and mercury, by this term was not
meant common salt (sodium chloride) or any of those substances commonly
known as salts. “Salt” was the name given to a supposed basic principle
in the metals, a principle of fixity and solidification, conferring the
property of resistance to fire. In this extended form, the theory is
found in the works of Isaac of Holland and in those attributed to “Basil
Valentine,” who (see the work _Of Natural and Supernatural Things_)
attempts to explain the differences in the properties of the metals as
the result of the differences in the proportion of sulphur, salt, and
mercury they contain. Thus, copper, which is highly coloured, is said to
contain much sulphur, whilst iron is supposed to contain an excess of
salt, &c. The sulphur-mercury-salt theory was vigorously championed by
Paracelsus, and the doctrine gained very general acceptance amongst the
alchemists. Salt, however, seems generally to have been considered a
less important principle than either mercury or sulphur.

The same germ-idea underlying these doctrines is to be found much later
in Stahl’s phlogistic theory (eighteenth century), which attempted to
account for the combustibility of bodies by the assumption that such
bodies all contain “phlogiston”--the hypothetical principle of
combustion (see § 72)--though the concept of “phlogiston” approaches
more nearly to the modern idea of an element than do the alchemistic
elements or principles. It was not until still later in the history of
Chemistry that it became quite evident that the more obvious properties
of chemical substances are not specially conferred on them in virtue of
certain elements entering into their constitution.

Alchemistic Elements and Principles.

§ =19.= The alchemists combined the above theories with Aristotle’s
theory of the elements. The latter, namely, earth, air, fire and water,
were regarded as more interior, more primary, than the principles, whose
source was said to be these same elements. As writes Sendivogius in Part
II. of _The New Chemical Light_: “The three Principles of things are
produced out of the four elements in the following manner: Nature, whose
power is in her obedience to the Will of God, ordained from the very
beginning, that the four elements should incessantly act on one another
so, in obedience to her behest, fire began to act on air, and produced
Sulphur; air acted on water, and produced Mercury; water, by its action
on the earth, produced Salt. Earth, alone, having nothing to act upon,
did not produce anything, but became the nurse, or womb, of these three
Principles. We designedly speak of three Principles; for though the
Ancients mention only two, it is clear that they omitted the third
(Salt) not from ignorance, but from a desire to lead the uninitiated

    [28] _The New Chemical Light_, Part II., _Concerning Sulphur_ (see
    _The Hermetic Museum_, vol. ii. pp. 142-143).

Beneath and within all these coverings of outward properties, taught the
alchemists, is hidden the secret essence of all material things. “. . .
the elements and compounds,” writes one alchemist, “in addition to crass
matter, are composed of a subtle substance, or intrinsic radical
humidity, diffused through the elemental parts, simple and wholly
incorruptible, long preserving the things themselves in vigour, and
called the Spirit of the World, proceeding from the Soul of the World,
the one certain life, filling and fathoming all things, gathering
together and connecting all things, so that from the three genera of
creatures, Intellectual, Celestial, and Corruptible, there is formed the
One Machine of the whole world.”[29] It is hardly necessary to point out
how nearly this approaches modern views regarding the Ether of Space.

    [29] ALEXANDER VON SUCHTEN: _Man, the best and most perfect of God’s
    creatures. A more complete Exposition of this Medical Foundation for
    the less Experienced Student._ (See BENEDICTUS FIGULUS: _A Golden
    and Blessed Casket of Nature’s Marvels_, translated by A. E. Waite,
    1893, pp. 71 and 72.)

The Growth of the Metals.

§ =20.= The alchemists regarded the metals as growing in the womb of the
earth, and a knowledge of this growth as being of very great importance.
Thomas Norton (who, however, contrary to the generality of alchemists,
denied that metals have seed and that they grow in the sense of
multiply) says:--

    “_Mettalls_ of kinde grow lowe under ground,
    For above erth rust in them is found;
    Soe above erth appeareth corruption,
    Of mettalls, and in long tyme destruction,
    Whereof noe Cause is found in this Case,
    Buth that above Erth thei be not in their place
    Contrarie places to nature causeth strife
    As Fishes out of water losen their Lyfe:
    And Man, with Beasts, and Birds live in ayer,
    But Stones and Mineralls under Erth repaier.”[30]

    [30] THOMAS NORTON: _Ordinall of Alchemy_ (see _Theatrum Chemicum
    Britannicum_, edited by Elias Ashmole, 1652, p. 18).

Norton here expresses the opinion, current among the alchemists, that
each and every thing has its own peculiar environment natural to it; a
view controverted by Robert Boyle (§ 71). So firm was the belief in the
growth of metals, that mines were frequently closed for a while in order
that the supply of metal might be renewed. The fertility of Mother Earth
forms the subject of one of the illustrations in _The Twelve Keys_ of
“Basil Valentine” (see § 41). We reproduce it in plate 3, fig. A.
Regarding this subject, the author writes: “The quickening power of the
earth produces all things that grow forth from it, and he who says that
the earth has no life makes a statement which is flatly contradicted by
the most ordinary facts. For what is dead cannot produce life and
growth, seeing that it is devoid of the quickening spirit. This spirit
is the life and soul that dwell in the earth, and are nourished by
heavenly and sidereal influences. For all herbs, trees, and roots, and
all metals and minerals, receive their growth and nutriment from the
spirit of the earth, which is the spirit of life. This spirit is itself
fed by the stars, and is thereby rendered capable of imparting nutriment
to all things that grow, and of nursing them as a mother does her child
while it is yet in the womb. The minerals are hidden in the womb of the
earth, and nourished by her with the spirit which she receives from

“Thus the power of growth that I speak of is imparted not by the earth,
but by the life-giving spirit that is in it. If the earth were deserted
by this spirit, it would be dead, and no longer able to afford
nourishment to anything. For its sulphur or richness would lack the
quickening spirit without which there can be neither life nor

    [31] “BASIL VALENTINE”: _The Twelve Keys_ (see _The Hermetic
    Museum_, vol. i. pp. 333-334).

[Illustration: PLATE 3.



Representing the Fertility of the Earth.



Representing the Amalgamation of Gold with Mercury.

(See page 33.)

_To face page 26_]]

Alchemy and Astrology.

§ =21.= The idea that the growth of each metal was under the influence
of one of the heavenly bodies (a theory in harmony with the alchemistic
view of the unity of the Cosmos), was very generally held by the
alchemists; and in consequence thereof, the metals were often referred
to by the names or astrological symbols of their peculiar planets. These
particulars are shown in the following table:--

  Metals.    |   Planets, &c.[32]   |   Symbols.
  Gold       |        Sun           |      ☉
  Silver     |        Moon          |      ☽
  Mercury    |        Mercury       |      ☿
  Copper     |        Venus         |      ♀
  Iron       |        Mars          |      ♂
  Tin        |        Jupiter       |      ♃
  Lead       |        Saturn        |      ♄

Moreover, it was thought by some alchemists that a due observance of
astrological conditions was necessary for successfully carrying out
important alchemistic experiments.

    [32] This supposed connection between the metals and planets also
    played an important part in Talismanic Magic.

Alchemistic View of the Nature of Gold.

§ =22.= The alchemists regarded gold as the most perfect metal, silver
being considered more perfect than the rest. The reason of this view is
not difficult to understand: gold is the most beautiful of all the
metals, and it retains its beauty without tarnishing; it resists the
action of fire and most corrosive liquids, and is unaffected by sulphur;
it was regarded, as we have pointed out above (see § 9), as symbolical
of the regenerate man. Silver, on the other hand, is, indeed, a
beautiful metal which wears well in a pure atmosphere and resists the
action of fire; but it is attacked by certain corrosives (_e.g._, _aqua
fortis_ or nitric acid) and also by sulphur. Through all the metals,
from the one seed, Nature, according to the alchemists, works
continuously up to gold; so that, in a sense, all other metals are gold
in the making; their existence marks the staying of Nature’s powers; as
“Eirenæus Philalethes” says: “All metallic seed is the seed of gold; for
gold is the intention of Nature in regard to all metals. If the base
metals are not gold, it is only through some accidental hindrance; they
are all potentially gold.”[33] Or, as another alchemist puts it: “Since
. . . the substance of the metals is _one_, and common to all, and since
this substance is (either at once, or after laying aside in course of
time the foreign and evil sulphur of the baser metals by a process of
gradual digestion) changed by the virtue of its own indwelling sulphur
into GOLD, which is the goal of all the metals, and the true intention
of Nature--we are obliged to admit, and freely confess that in the
mineral kingdom, as well as in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, Nature
seeks and demands a gradual attainment of perfection, and a gradual
approximation to the highest standard of purity and excellence.”[34]
Such was the alchemistic view of the generation of the metals; a theory
which is admittedly crude, but which, nevertheless, contains the germ of
a great principle of the utmost importance, namely, the idea that all
the varying forms of matter are evolved from some one primordial
stuff--a principle of which chemical science lost sight for awhile, for
its validity was unrecognised by Dalton’s Atomic Theory (at least, as
enunciated by him), but which is being demonstrated, as we hope to show
hereinafter, by recent scientific research. The alchemist was certainly
a fantastic evolutionist, but he _was_ an evolutionist, and, moreover,
he did not make the curious and paradoxical mistake of regarding the
fact of evolution as explaining away the existence of God--the alchemist
recognised the hand of the Divine in nature--and, although, in these
days of modern science, we cannot accept his theory of the growth of
metals, we can, nevertheless, appreciate and accept the fundamental
germ-idea underlying it.

    [33] “EIRENÆUS PHILALETHES”: _The Metamorphosis of Metals_ (see _The
    Hermetic Museum_, vol. ii. p. 239).

    [34] _The Golden Tract Concerning the Stone of the Philosophers_
    (see _The Hermetic Museum_, vol. i. p. 19).

The Philosopher’s Stone.

§ =23.= The alchemist strove to assist Nature in her gold-making, or, at
least, to carry out her methods. The pseudo-Geber taught that the
imperfect metals were to be perfected or cured by the application of
“medicines.” Three forms of medicines were distinguished; the first
bring about merely a temporary change, and the changes wrought by the
second class, although permanent, are not complete. “A Medicine of the
third Order,” he writes, “I call every Preparation, which, when it comes
to Bodies, with its projection, takes away all Corruption, and perfects
them with the Difference of all Compleatment. But this is one only.”[35]
This, the true medicine that would produce a real and permanent
transmutation, is the =Philosopher’s Stone=, the Masterpiece of
alchemistic art. Similar views were held by all the alchemists, though
some of them taught that it was necessary first of all to reduce the
metals to their first substance. Often, two forms of the Philosopher’s
Stone were distinguished, or perhaps we should say, two degrees of
perfection in the one Stone; that for transmuting the “imperfect” metals
into silver being said to be white, the stone or “powder of projection”
for gold being said to be of a red colour. In other accounts (see
Chapter V.) the medicine is described as of a pale brimstone hue.

    [35] _Of the Sum of Perfection_ (see _The Works of Geber_,
    translated by Richard Russel, 1678, p. 192).

Most of the alchemists who claimed knowledge of the Philosopher’s Stone
or the _materia prima_ necessary for its preparation, generally kept its
nature most secret, and spoke only in the most enigmatical and
allegorical language, the majority of their recipes containing words of
unknown meaning. In some cases gold or silver, as the case may be, was
employed in preparing the “medicine”; and, after projection had been
made, this was, of course, obtained again in the metallic form, the
alchemist imagining that a transmutation had been effected. In the case
of the few other recipes that are intelligible, the most that could be
obtained by following out their instructions is a white or yellow
metallic alloy superficially resembling silver or gold.

The Nature of the Philosopher’s Stone.

§ =24.= The mystical as distinguished from the pseudo-practical
descriptions of the Stone and its preparation are by far the more
interesting of the two. Paracelsus, in his work on _The Tincture of the
Philosophers_, tells us that all that is necessary for us to do is to
mix and coagulate the “rose-coloured blood from the Lion” and “the
gluten from the Eagle,” by which he probably meant that we must combine
“philosophical sulphur” with “philosophical mercury.” This opinion,
that the Philosopher’s Stone consists of “philosophical sulphur and
mercury” combined so as to constitute a perfect unity, was commonly held
by the alchemists, and they frequently likened this union to the
conjunction of the sexes in marriage. “Eirenæus Philalethes” tells us
that for the preparation of the Stone it is necessary to extract the
seed of gold, though this cannot be accomplished by subjecting gold to
corrosive liquids, but only by a homogeneous water (or liquid)--the
Mercury of the Sages. In the _Book of the Revelation of Hermes,
interpreted by Theophrastus Paracelsus, concerning the Supreme Secret of
the World_, the Medicine, which is here, as not infrequently, identified
with the alchemistic essence of all things or Soul of the World, is
described in the following suggestive language: “This is the Spirit of
Truth, which the world cannot comprehend without the interposition of
the Holy Ghost, or without the instruction of those who know it. The
same is of a mysterious nature, wondrous strength, boundless power.
. . . By Avicenna this Spirit is named the Soul of the World. For, as
the Soul moves all the limbs of the Body, so also does this Spirit move
all bodies. And as the Soul is in all the limbs of the Body, so also is
this Spirit in all elementary created things. It is sought by many and
found by few. It is beheld from afar and found near; for it exists in
every thing, in every place, and at all times. It has the powers of all
creatures; its action is found in all elements, and the qualities of all
things are therein, even in the highest perfection . . . it heals all
dead and living bodies without other medicine, . . . converts all
metallic bodies into gold, and there is nothing like unto it under

    [36] See BENEDICTUS FIGULUS: _A Golden and Blessed Casket of
    Nature’s Marvels_ (translated by A. E. Waite, 1893, pp. 36, 37, and

The Theory of Development.

§ =25.= From the ascetic standpoint (and unfortunately, most mystics
have been somewhat overfond of ascetic ideas), the development of the
soul is only fully possible with the mortification of the body; and all
true Mysticism teaches that if we would reach the highest goal possible
for man--union with the Divine--there must be a giving up of our own
individual wills, an abasement of the soul before the Spirit. And so the
alchemists taught that for the achievement of the _magnum opus_ on the
physical plane, we must strip the metals of their outward properties in
order to develop the essence within. As says Helvetius: “. . . the
essences of metals are hidden in their outward bodies, as the kernel is
hidden in the nut. Every earthly body, whether animal, vegetable, or
mineral, is the habitation and terrestrial abode of that celestial
spirit, or influence, which is its principle of life or growth. The
secret of Alchemy is the destruction of the body, which enables the
Artist to get at, and utilise for his own purposes, the living
soul.”[37] This killing of the outward nature of material things was to
be brought about by the processes of putrefaction and decay; hence the
reason why such processes figure so largely in alchemistic recipes for
the preparation of the “Divine Magistery.” It must be borne in mind,
however, that the alchemists used the terms “putrefaction” and “decay”
rather indiscriminately, applying them to chemical processes which are
no longer regarded as such. Pictorial symbols of death and decay
representative of such processes are to be found in several alchemistic
books. There is a curious series of pictures in _A Form and Method of
Perfecting Base Metals_, by Janus Lacinus, the Calabrian (a short tract
prefixed to _The New Pearl of Great Price_ by Peter Bonus--see § 39), of
which we show three examples in plates 3 and 4. In the first picture of
the series (not shown here) we enter the palace of the king (gold) and
observe him sitting crowned upon his throne, surrounded by his son
(mercury) and five servants (silver, copper, tin, iron and lead). In the
next picture (plate 3, fig. B), the son, incited by the servants, kills
his father; and, in the third, he catches the blood of his murdered
parent in his robes; whereby we understand that an amalgam of gold and
mercury is to be prepared, the gold apparently disappearing or dying,
whilst the mercury is coloured thereby. The next picture shows us a
grave being dug, _i.e._, a furnace is to be made ready. In the fifth
picture in the series, the son “thought to throw his father into the
grave, and to leave him there; but . . . both fell in together”; and in
the sixth picture (plate 4, fig. A), we see the son being prevented from
escaping, both son and father being left in the grave to decay. Here we
have instructions in symbolical form to place the amalgam in a sealed
vessel in the furnace and to allow it to remain there until some change
is observed. So the allegory proceeds. Ultimately the father is
restored to life, the symbol of resurrection being (as might be
expected) of frequent occurrence in alchemistic literature. By this
resurrection we understand that the gold will finally be obtained in a
pure form. Indeed, it is now the “great medicine” and, in the last
picture of the series (plate 4, fig. B), the king’s son and his five
servants are all made kings in virtue of its powers.

    [37] J. F. HELVETIUS: _The Golden Calf_, ch. iv. (see _The Hermetic
    Museum_, vol. ii. p. 298).

[Illustration: PLATE 4.



Representing the Coction of Gold Amalgam in a Closed Vessel.



Representing the Transmutation of the Metals.

[_To face page 33_]

The Powers of the Philosopher’s Stone.

§ =26.= The alchemists believed that a most minute proportion of the
Stone projected upon considerable quantities of heated mercury, molten
lead, or other “base” metal, would transmute practically the whole into
silver or gold. This claim of the alchemists, that a most minute
quantity of the Stone was sufficient to transmute considerable
quantities of “base” metal, has been the object of much ridicule.
Certainly, some of the claims of the alchemists (understood literally)
are out of all reason; but on the other hand, the disproportion between
the quantities of Stone and transmuted metal cannot be advanced as an _à
priori_ objection to the alchemists’ claims, inasmuch that a class of
chemical reactions (called “catalytic”) is known, in which the presence
of a small quantity of some appropriate form of matter--the
catalyst--brings about a chemical change in an indefinite quantity of
some other form or forms; thus, for example, cane-sugar in aqueous
solution is converted into two other sugars by the action of small
quantities of acid; and sulphur-dioxide and oxygen, which will not
combine under ordinary conditions, do so readily in the presence of a
small quantity of platinized asbestos, which is obtained unaltered
after the reaction is completed and may be used over and over again
(this process is actually employed in the manufacture of sulphuric acid
or oil of vitriol). However, whether any such catalytic transmutation of
the chemical “elements” is possible is merely conjecture.

The Elixir of Life.

§ =27.= The Elixir of Life, which was generally described as a solution
of the Stone in spirits of wine, or identified with the Stone itself,
could be applied, so it was thought, under certain conditions to the
alchemist himself, with an entirely analogous result, _i.e._, it would
restore him to the flower of youth. The idea, not infrequently
attributed to the alchemists, that the Elixir would endow one with a
life of endless duration on the material plane is not in strict accord
with alchemistic analogy. From this point of view, the effect of the
Elixir is physiological perfection, which, although ensuring long life,
is not equivalent to endless life on the material plane. “The
Philosophers’ Stone,” says Paracelsus, “purges the whole body of man,
and cleanses it from all impurities by the introduction of new and more
youthful forces which it joins to the nature of man.”[38] And in another
work expressive of the opinions of the same alchemist, we read: “. . .
there is nothing which might deliver the mortal body from death; but
there is One Thing which may postpone decay, renew youth, and prolong
short human life . . .”[39] In the theory that a solution of the
Philosopher’s Stone (which, it must be remembered, was thought to be of
a species with gold) constituted the _Elixir Vitæ_, can be traced,
perhaps, the idea that gold in a potable form was a veritable cure-all:
in the latter days of Alchemy any yellow-coloured liquid was foisted
upon a credulous public as a medicinal preparation of gold.

    [38] THEOPHRASTUS PARACELSUS: _The Fifth Book of the Archidoxies_
    (see _The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus_,
    translated by A. E. Waite, 1894, vol. ii. p. 39).

    [39] _The Book of the Revelation of Hermes, interpreted by
    Theophrastus Paracelsus, concerning the Supreme Secret of the
    World._ (See BENEDICTUS FIGULUS: _A Golden Casket of Nature’s
    Marvels_, translated by A. E. Waite, 1893, pp. 33 and 34.)

[Illustration: PLATE 5.

ALCHEMISTIC APPARATUS. A and B.--Two forms of Apparatus for Sublimation.

_To face page 37_]]

The Practical Methods of the Alchemists.

§ =28.= We will conclude this chapter with some few remarks regarding
the practical methods of the alchemists. In their experiments, the
alchemists worked with very large quantities of material compared with
what is employed in chemical researches at the present day. They had
great belief in the efficacy of time to effect a desired change in their
substances, and they were wont to repeat the same operation (such as
distillation, for example) on the same material over and over again;
which demonstrated their unwearied patience, even if it effected little
towards the attainment of their end. They paid much attention to any
changes of colour they observed in their experiments, and many
descriptions of supposed methods to achieve the _magnum opus_ contain
detailed directions as to the various changes of colour which must be
obtained in the material operated upon if a successful issue to the
experiment is desired.[40] In plates 5 and 6 we give illustrations of
some characteristic pieces of apparatus employed by the alchemists.
Plate 5, fig. A, and plate 6, fig. A, are from a work known as
_Alchemiae Gebri_ (1545); plate 5, fig. B, is from Glauber’s work on
Furnaces (1651); and plate 6, fig. B, is from a work by Dr. John French
entitled _The Art of Distillation_ (1651). The first figure shows us a
furnace and alembics. The alembic proper is a sort of still-head which
can be luted on to a flask or other vessel, and was much used for
distillations. In the present case, however, the alembics are employed
in conjunction with apparatus for subliming difficultly volatile
substances. Plate 5, fig. B, shows another apparatus for sublimation,
consisting of a sort of oven, and three detachable upper chambers,
generally called aludels. In both forms of apparatus the vapours are
cooled in the upper part of the vessel, and the substance is deposited
in the solid form, being thereby purified from less volatile impurities.
Plate 6, fig. A, shows an athanor (or digesting furnace) and a couple of
digesting vessels. A vessel of this sort was employed for heating bodies
in a closed space, the top being sealed up when the substances to be
operated upon had been put inside, and the vessel heated in ashes in an
athanor, a uniform temperature being maintained. The pelican,
illustrated in plate 6, fig. B, was used for a similar purpose, the two
arms being added in the idea that the vapours would be circulated

    [40] As writes Espagnet in his _Hermetic Arcanum_, canons 64 and 65:
    “The Means or demonstrative signs are Colours, successively and
    orderly affecting the matter and its affections and demonstrative
    passions, whereof there are also three special ones (as critical) to
    be noted; to these some add a Fourth. The first is black, which is
    called the Crow’s head, because of its extreme blackness, whose
    crepusculum sheweth the beginning of the action of the fire of
    nature and solution, and the blackest midnight sheweth the
    perfection of liquefaction, and confusion of the elements. Then the
    grain putrefies and is corrupted, that it may be the more apt for
    generation. The white colour succeedeth the black, wherein is given
    the perfection of the first degree, and of the White Sulphur. This
    is called the blessed stone; this Earth is white and foliated,
    wherein Philosophers do sow their gold. The third is Orange colour,
    which is produced in the passage of the white to the red, as the
    middle, and being mixed of both is as the dawn with his saffron
    hair, a forerunner of the Sun. The fourth colour is Ruddy and
    Sanguine, which is extracted from the white fire only. Now because
    whiteness is easily altered by any other colour before day it
    quickly faileth of its candour. But the deep redness of the Sun
    perfecteth the work of Sulphur, which is called the Sperm of the
    male, the fire of the Stone, the King’s Crown, and the Son of Sol,
    wherein the first labour of the workman resteth.

    “Besides these decretory signs which firmly inhere in the matter,
    and shew its essential mutations, almost infinite colours appear,
    and shew themselves in vapours, as the Rainbow in the clouds, which
    quickly pass away and are expelled by those that succeed, more
    affecting the air than the earth: the operator must have a gentle
    care of them, because they are not permanent, and proceed not from
    the intrinsic disposition of the matter, but from the fire painting
    and fashioning everything after its pleasure, or casually by heat in
    slight moisture” (see _Collectanea Hermetica_, edited by W. Wynn
    Westcott, vol. i., 1893, pp. 28 and 29). Very probably this is not
    without a mystical meaning as well as a supposed application in the
    preparation of the physical Stone.

[Illustration: PLATE 6.

ALCHEMISTIC APPARATUS. A.--An Athanor. B.--A Pelican.

_To face page 38_]]




Hermes Trismegistos.

§ =29.= Having now considered the chief points in the theory of Physical
Alchemy, we must turn our attention to the lives and individual
teachings of the alchemists themselves. The first name which is found in
the history of Alchemy is that of =Hermes Trismegistos=. We have already
mentioned the high esteem in which the works ascribed to this personage
were held by the alchemists (§ 6). He has been regarded as the father of
Alchemy; his name has supplied a synonym for the Art--the Hermetic
Art--and even to-day we speak of _hermetically_ sealing flasks and the
like. But who Hermes actually was, or even if there were such a
personage, is a matter of conjecture. The alchemists themselves supposed
him to have been an Egyptian living about the time of Moses. He is now
generally regarded as purely mythical--a personification of Thoth, the
Egyptian God of learning; but, of course, some person or persons must
have written the works attributed to him, and the first of such writers
(if, as seems not unlikely, there were more than one) may be considered
to have a right to the name. Of these works, the _Divine Pymander_,[42]
a mystical-religious treatise, is the most important. The _Golden
Tractate_, also attributed to Hermes, which is an exceedingly obscure
alchemistic work, is now regarded as having been written at a
comparatively late date.

    [41] It is perhaps advisable to mention here that the lives of the
    alchemists, for the most part, are enveloped in considerable
    obscurity, and many points in connection therewith are in dispute.
    The authorities we have followed will be found, as a rule,
    specifically mentioned in what follows; but we may here acknowledge
    our general indebtedness to the following works, though, as the
    reader will observe, many others have been consulted as well: Thomas
    Thomson’s _The History of Chemistry_, Meyer’s _A History of
    Chemistry_, the anonymous _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_
    (1815), the works of Mr. A. E. Waite, the _Dictionary of National
    Biography_, and certain articles in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_.
    This must not be taken to mean, however, that we have always
    followed the conclusions reached in these works, for so far as the
    older of them are concerned, recent researches by various
    authorities--to whom reference will be found in the following pages,
    and to whom, also, we are indebted--have shown, in certain cases,
    that such are not tenable.

    [42] Dr. Everard’s translation of this work forms vol. ii. of the
    _Collectanea Hermetica_, edited by W. Wynn Westcott, M.B., D.P.H. It
    is now, however, out of print.

The Smaragdine Table.

§ =30.= In a work attributed to Albertus Magnus, but which is probably
spurious, we are told that Alexander the Great found the tomb of Hermes
in a cave near Hebron. This tomb contained an emerald table--“The
Smaragdine Table”--on which were inscribed the following thirteen
sentences in Phœnician characters:--

1. I speak not fictitious things, but what is true and most certain.

2. What is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like
that which is below, to accomplish the miracles of one thing.

3. And as all things were produced by the mediation of one Being, so all
things were produced from this one thing by adaptation.

4. Its father is the Sun, its mother the Moon; the wind carries it in
its belly, its nurse is the earth.

5. It is the cause of all perfection throughout the whole world.

6. Its power is perfect if it be changed into earth.

7. Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, acting
prudently and with judgment.

8. Ascend with the greatest sagacity from the earth to heaven, and then
again descend to the earth, and unite together the powers of things
superior and things inferior. Thus you will obtain the glory of the
whole world, and all obscurity will fly far away from you.

9. This thing is the fortitude of all fortitude, because it overcomes
all subtle things, and penetrates every solid thing.

10. Thus were all things created.

11. Thence proceed wonderful adaptations which are produced in this way.

12. Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistos, possessing the three
parts of the philosophy of the whole world.

13. That which I had to say concerning the operation of the Sun is

These sentences clearly teach the doctrine of the alchemistic essence or
“One Thing,” which is everywhere present, penetrating even solids (this
we should note is true of the ether of space), and out of which all
things of the physical world are made by adaptation or modification. The
terms Sun and Moon in the above passage probably stand for Spirit and
Matter respectively, not gold and silver.

Zosimus of Panopolis.

§ =31.= One of the earliest of the alchemists of whom record remains was
=Zosimus of Panopolis=, who flourished in the fifth century, and was
regarded by the later alchemists as a master of the Art. He is said to
have written many treatises dealing with Alchemy, but only fragments
remain. Of these fragments, Professor Venable says: “. . . they give us
a good idea of the learning of the man and of his times. They contain
descriptions of apparatus, of furnaces, studies of minerals, of alloys,
of glass making, of mineral waters, and much that is mystical, besides a
good deal referring to the transmutation of metals.”[43] Zosimus is said
to have been the author of the saying, “like begets like,” but whether
all the fragments ascribed to him were really his work is doubtful.

    [43] F. P. VENABLE, Ph.D.: _A Short History of Chemistry_ (1896), p.

Among other early alchemists we may mention also =Africanus=, the
Syrian; =Synesius=, Bishop of Ptolemais, and the historian,
=Olympiodorus= of Thebes.


§ =32.= In the seventh century the Arabians conquered Egypt; and
strangely enough, Alchemy flourished under them to a remarkable degree.
Of all the Arabian alchemists, =Geber= has been regarded as the
greatest; as Professor Meyer says: “There can be no dispute that with
the name _Geber_ was propagated the memory of a personality with which
the chemical knowledge of the time was bound up.”[44] Geber is supposed
to have lived about the ninth century, but of his life nothing definite
is known. A large number of works have been ascribed to him, of which
the majority are unknown, but the four Latin MSS. which have been
printed under the titles _Summa Perfectionis Mettalorum_, _De
Investigatione Perfectionis Metallorum_, _De Inventione Veritatis_ and
_De Fornacibus Construendis_, were, until a few years ago, regarded as
genuine. On the strength of these works, Geber has ranked high as a
chemist. In them are described the preparation of many important
chemical compounds; the most essential chemical operations, such as
sublimation, distillation, filtration, crystallisation (or coagulation,
as the alchemists called it), &c.; and also important chemical
apparatus, for example, the water-bath, improved furnaces, &c. However,
it was shown by the late Professor Berthelot that _Summa Perfectionis
Mettalorum_ is a forgery of the fourteenth century, and the other works
forgeries of an even later date. Moreover, the original Arabic MSS. of
Geber have been brought to light. These true writings of Geber are very
obscure; they give no warrant for believing that the famous
sulphur-mercury theory was due to this alchemist, and they prove him not
to be the expert chemist that he was supposed to have been. The spurious
writings mentioned above show that the pseudo-Geber was a man of wide
chemical knowledge and experience, and play a not inconsiderable part in
the history of Alchemy.

    [44] ERNST VON MEYER: _A History of Chemistry_ (translated by Dr.
    McGowan, 1906), p. 31.

Other Arabian Alchemists.

§ =33.= Among other Arabian alchemists the most celebrated were
=Avicenna= and =Rhasis=, who are supposed to have lived some time after
Geber; and to whom, perhaps, the sulphur-mercury theory may have been to
some extent due.

The teachings of the Arabian alchemists gradually penetrated into the
Western world, in which, during the thirteenth century, flourished some
of the most eminent of the alchemists, whose lives and teachings we must
now briefly consider.

[Illustration: PLATE 7.

[by de Bry]


_To face page 44_]]

Albertus Magnus (1193-1280).

§ =34.= =Albertus Magnus=, Albert Groot or Albert von Bollstädt (see
plate 7), was born at Lauingen, probably in 1193. He was educated at
Padua, and in his later years he showed himself apt at acquiring the
knowledge of his time. He studied theology, philosophy and natural
science, and is chiefly celebrated as an Aristotelean philosopher. He
entered the Dominican order, taught publicly at Cologne, Paris and
elsewhere, and was made provincial of this order. Later he had the
bishopric of Regensburg conferred on him, but he retired after a few
years to a Dominican cloister, where he devoted himself to philosophy
and science. He was one of the most learned men of his time and,
moreover, a man of noble character. The authenticity of the alchemistic
works attributed to him has been questioned.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

§ =35.= The celebrated Dominican, =Thomas Aquinas= (see plate 8), was
probably a pupil of Albertus Magnus, from whom it is thought he imbibed
alchemistic learning. It is very probable, however, that the alchemistic
works attributed to him are spurious. The author of these works
manifests a deeply religious tone, and, according to Thomson’s _History
of Chemistry_, he was the first to employ the term “amalgam” to
designate an alloy of mercury with some other metal.[45]

    [45] THOMAS THOMSON: _The History of Chemistry_, vol. i. (1830), p.

Roger Bacon (1214-1294).

§ =36.= =Roger Bacon=, the most illustrious of the mediæval alchemists,
was born near Ilchester in Somerset, probably in 1214. His erudition,
considering the general state of ignorance prevailing at this time, was
most remarkable. Professor Meyer says: “He is to be regarded as the
intellectual originator of experimental research, if the departure in
this direction is to be coupled with any one name--a direction which,
followed more and more as time went on, gave to the science [of
Chemistry] its own peculiar stamp, and ensured its steady
development.”[46] Roger Bacon studied theology and science at Oxford and
at Paris; and he joined the Franciscan order, at what date, however, is
uncertain. He was particularly interested in optics, and certain
discoveries in this branch of physics have been attributed to him,
though probably erroneously. It appears, also, that he was acquainted
with gunpowder, which was, however, not employed in Europe until many
years later.[47] Unfortunately, he earned the undesirable reputation of
being in communication with the powers of darkness, and as he did not
hesitate to oppose many of the opinions current at the time, he
suffered much persecution. He was a firm believer in the powers of the
Philosopher’s Stone to transmute large quantities of “base” metal into
gold, and also to extend the life of the individual. “_Alchimy_,” he
says, “is a Science, teaching how to transforme any kind of mettall into
another: and that by a proper medicine, as it appeareth by many
Philosophers Bookes. _Alchimy_ therefore is a science teaching how to
make and compound a certaine medicine, which is called _Elixir_, the
which when it is cast upon mettals or imperfect bodies, doth fully
perfect them in the verie projection.”[48] He also believed in
Astrology; but, nevertheless, he was entirely opposed to many of the
magical and superstitious notions held at the time, and his tract, _De
Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturæ, et de Nullitate Magiæ_, was an
endeavour to prove that many so-called “miracles” could be brought about
simply by the aid of natural science. Roger Bacon was a firm supporter
of the Sulphur-Mercury theory: he says: “. . . the natural principles in
the mynes, are _Argent-vive_, and _Sulphur_. All mettals and minerals,
whereof there be sundrie and divers kinds, are begotten of these two:
but I must tel you, that nature alwaies intendeth and striveth to the
perfection of Gold: but many accidents coming between, change the
metalls. . . . For according to the puritie and impuritie of the two
aforesaide principles, _Argent-vive_ and _Sulphur_, pure, and impure
mettals are ingendred.”[49] He expresses surprise that any should employ
animal and vegetable substances in their attempts to prepare the Stone,
a practice common to some alchemists but warmly criticised by others.
He says: “Nothing may be mingled with mettalls which hath not beene made
or sprung from them, it remaineth cleane inough, that no strange thing
which hath not his originall from these two [viz., sulphur and mercury],
is able to perfect them, or to make a chaunge and new transmutation of
them: so that it is to be wondered at, that any wise man should set his
mind upon living creatures, or vegetables which are far off, when there
be minerals to bee found nigh enough: neither may we in any wise thinke,
that any of the Philosophers placed the Art in the said remote things,
except it were by way of comparison.”[50] The one process necessary for
the preparation of the Stone, he tells us, is “continuall concoction” in
the fire, which is the method that “God hath given to nature.”[51] He
died about 1294.

    [46] ERNST VON MEYER: _A History of Chemistry_ (translated by Dr.
    McGowan, 1906), p. 35.

    [47] See ROGER BACON’S _Discovery of Miracles_, chaps. vi. and xi.

    [48] ROGER BACON: _The Mirror of Alchimy_ (1597), p. 1.

    [49] _Ibid._ p. 2.

    [50] ROGER BACON: _The Mirror of Alchimy_ (1597), p. 4.

    [51] _Ibid._ p. 9.

Arnold de Villanova (12--?-1310?).

§ =37.= The date and birthplace of =Arnold de Villanova=, or Villeneuve,
are both uncertain. He studied medicine at Paris, and in the latter part
of the thirteenth century practised professionally in Barcelona. To
avoid persecution at the hands of the Inquisition, he was obliged to
leave Spain, and ultimately found safety with Frederick II. in Sicily.
He was famous not only as an alchemist, but also as a skilful physician.
He died (it is thought in a shipwreck) about 1310-1313.

Raymond Lully (1235?-1315).

§ =38.= =Raymond Lully=, the son of a noble Spanish family, was born at
Palma (in Majorca) about 1235. He was a man of somewhat eccentric
character--in his youth a man of pleasure; in his maturity, a mystic
and ascetic. His career was of a roving and adventurous character. We
are told that, in his younger days, although married, he became
violently infatuated with a lady of the name of Ambrosia de Castello,
who vainly tried to dissuade him from his profane passion. Her efforts
proving futile, she requested Lully to call upon her, and in the
presence of her husband, bared to his sight her breast, which was almost
eaten away by a cancer. This sight--so the story goes--brought about
Lully’s conversion. He became actuated by the idea of converting to
Christianity the heathen in Africa, and engaged the services of an
Arabian whereby he might learn the language. The man, however,
discovering his master’s object, attempted to assassinate him, and Lully
narrowly escaped with his life. But his enthusiasm for missionary work
never abated--his central idea was the reasonableness and
demonstrability of Christian doctrine--and unhappily he was, at last,
stoned to death by the inhabitants of Bugiah (in Algeria) in 1315.[52]

    [52] See _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_ (1815), pp. 17 _et

A very large number of alchemistic, theological and other treatises are
attributed to Lully, many of which are undoubtedly spurious; and it is a
difficult question to decide exactly which are genuine. He is supposed
to have derived a knowledge of Alchemy from Roger Bacon and Arnold de
Villanova. It appears more probable, however, either that Lully the
alchemist was a personage distinct from the Lully whose life we have
sketched above, or that the alchemistic writings attributed to him are
forgeries of a similar nature to the works of pseudo-Geber (§ 32). Of
these alchemical writings we may here mention the _Clavicula_. This he
says is the key to all his other books on Alchemy, in which books the
whole Art is fully declared, though so obscurely as not to be
understandable without its aid. In this work an alleged method for what
may be called the multiplication of the “noble” metals rather than
transmutation is described in clear language; but it should be noticed
that the stone employed is itself a compound either of silver or gold.
According to Lully, the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone is the
extraction of the mercury of silver or gold. He writes: “Metals cannot
be transmuted . . . in the Minerals, unless they be reduced into their
first Matter. . . . Therefore I counsel you, O my Friends, that you do
not work but about _Sol_ and _Luna_, reducing them into the first
Matter, our _Sulphur_ and _Argent vive_: therefore, Son, you are to use
this venerable Matter; and I swear unto you and promise, that unless you
take the _Argent vive_ of these two, you go to the Practick as blind men
without eyes or sense. . . .”[53]

    [53] RAYMOND LULLY: _Clavicula, or, A Little Key_ (see _Aurifontina
    Chymica_, 1680, p. 167).

Peter Bonus (14th Century).

§ =39.= In 1546, a work was published entitled _Magarita Pretiosa_,
which claimed to be a “faithful abridgement,” by “Janus Lacinus
Therapus, the Calabrian,” of a MS. written by =Peter Bonus= in the
fourteenth century. An abridged English translation of this book by Mr.
A. E. Waite was published in 1894. Of the life of Bonus, who is said to
have been an inhabitant of Pola, a seaport of Istria, nothing is known;
but the _Magarita Pretiosa_ is an alchemistic work of considerable
interest. The author commences, like pseudo-Geber in his _Sum of
Perfection_, by bringing forward a number of very ingenious arguments
against the validity of the Art; he then proceeds with arguments in
favour of Alchemy and puts forward answers in full to the former
objections; further difficulties, &c., are then dealt with. In all this,
compared with many other alchemists, Bonus, though somewhat prolix, is
remarkably lucid. All metals, he argues, following the views of
pseudo-Geber, consist of mercury and sulphur; but whilst the mercury is
always one and the same, different metals contain different sulphurs.
There are also two different kinds of sulphurs--inward and outward.
Sulphur is necessary for the development of the mercury, but for the
final product, gold, to come forth, it is necessary that the outward and
impure sulphur be purged off. “Each metal,” says Bonus, “differs from
all the rest, and has a certain perfection and completeness of its own;
but none, except gold, has reached that highest degree of perfection of
which it is capable. For all common metals there is a transient and a
perfect state of inward completeness, and this perfect state they attain
either through the slow operation of Nature, or through the sudden
transformatory power of our Stone. We must, however, add that the
imperfect metals form part of the great plan and design of Nature,
though they are in course of transformation into gold. For a large
number of very useful and indispensable tools and utensils could not be
provided at all if there were no copper, iron, tin, or lead, and if all
metals were either silver or gold. For this beneficent reason Nature
has furnished us with the metallic substance in all its different stages
of development, from iron, or the lowest, to gold, or the highest state
of metallic perfection. Nature is ever studying variety, and, for that
reason, instead of covering the whole face of the earth with water, has
evolved out of that elementary substance a great diversity of forms,
embracing the whole animal, vegetable and mineral world. It is, in like
manner, for the use of men that Nature has differentiated the metallic
substance into a great variety of species and forms.”[54] According to
this interesting alchemistic work, the Art of Alchemy consists, not in
reducing the imperfect metals to their first substance, but in carrying
forward Nature’s work, developing the imperfect metals to perfection and
removing their impure sulphur.

    [54] PETER BONUS: _The New Pearl of Great Price_ (Mr. A. E. Waite’s
    translation, pp. 176-177).

Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418).

§ =40.= Nicolas Flamel (see plate 8) was born about 1330, probably in
Paris. His parents were poor, and Nicolas took up the trade of a
scrivener. In the course of time, Flamel became a very wealthy man and,
at the same time, it appears, one who exhibited considerable
munificence. This increase in Flamel’s wealth has been attributed to
supposed success in the Hermetic Art. We are told that a remarkable book
came into the young scrivener’s possession, which, at first, he was
unable to understand, until, at last, he had the good fortune to meet an
adept who translated its mysteries for him. This book revealed the
occult secrets of Alchemy, and by its means Nicolas was enabled to
obtain immense quantities of gold. This story, however, appears to be of
a legendary nature, and it seems more likely that Flamel’s riches
resulted from his business as a scrivener and from moneylending. At any
rate, all of the alchemistic works attributed to Flamel are of more or
less questionable origin. One of these, entitled _A Short Tract, or
Philosophical Summary_, will be found in _The Hermetic Museum_. It is a
very brief work, supporting the sulphur-mercury theory.

[Illustration: PLATE 8.



_To face page 52_]]

“Basil Valentine” and “The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony.”

§ =41.= Probably the most celebrated of all alchemistic books is the
work known as _Triumph-Wagen des Antimonii_. A Latin translation with a
commentary by Theodore Kerckringius was published in 1685, and an
English translation of this version by Mr. A. E. Waite appeared in 1893.
The author describes himself as “=Basil Valentine=, a Benedictine monk.”
In his “_Practica_,” another alchemistic work, he says: “When I had
emptied to the dregs the cup of human suffering, I was led to consider
the wretchedness of this world, and the fearful consequences of our
first parents’ disobedience . . . I made haste to withdraw myself from
the evil world, to bid farewell to it, and to devote myself to the
Service of God.”[55] He proceeds to relate that he entered a monastery,
but finding that he had some time on his hands after performing his
daily work and devotions, and not wishing to pass this time in idleness,
he took up the study of Alchemy, “the investigation of those natural
secrets by which God has shadowed out eternal things,” and at last
his labours were rewarded by the discovery of a Stone most potent in the
curing of diseases. In _The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony_ are
accurately described a large number of antimonial preparations, and as
Basil was supposed to have written this work some time in the fifteenth
century, these preparations were accordingly concluded to have been, for
the most part, his own discoveries. He defends with the utmost vigour
the medicinal values of antimony, and criticises in terms far from mild
the physicians of his day. On account of this work Basil Valentine has
ranked very high as an experimental chemist; but from quite early times
its date and authorship have been regarded alike as doubtful; and it
appears from the researches of the late Professor Schorlemmer “to be an
undoubted forgery dating from about 1600, the information being culled
from the works of other writers. . . .”[56] Probably the other works
ascribed to Basil Valentine are of a like nature. _The Triumphal Chariot
of Antimony_ does, however, give an accurate account of the knowledge of
antimony of this time, and the pseudo-Valentine shows himself to have
been a man of considerable experience with regard to this subject.

    [55] “BASIL VALENTINE”: _The “Practica”_ (see _The Hermetic Museum_,
    vol. i. p. 313).

    [56] Sir H. E. ROSCOE, F.R.S., and C. SCHORLEMMER, F.R.S.: _A
    Treatise on Chemistry_, vol. i. (1905), p. 9.

Isaac of Holland (15th Century).

§ =42.= Isaac of Holland and a countryman of the same name, probably his
son, are said to have been the first Dutch alchemists. They are supposed
to have lived during the fifteenth century, but of their lives nothing
is known. Isaac, although not free from superstitious opinions, appears
to have been a practical chemist, and his works, which abound in
recipes, were held in great esteem by Paracelsus and other alchemists.
He held that all things in this world are of a dual nature, partly good
and partly bad. “. . . All that God hath created good in the upper part
of the world,” he writes, “are perfect and uncorruptible, as the heaven:
but whatsoever in these lower parts, whether it be in beasts, fishes,
and all manner of sensible creatures, hearbs or plants, it is indued
with a double nature, that is to say, perfect, and unperfect; the
perfect nature is called the Quintessence, the unperfect the Feces or
dreggs, or the venemous or combustible oile. . . . God hath put a secret
nature or influence in every creature, and . . . to every nature of one
sort or kind he hath given one common influence and vertue, whether it
bee on Physick or other secret works, which partly are found out by
naturall workmanship. And yet more things are unknown than are apparent
to our senses.”[57] He gives directions for extracting the Quintessence,
for which marvellous powers are claimed, out of sugar and other organic
substances; and he appears to be the earliest known writer who makes
mention of the famous sulphur-mercury-salt theory.

    [57] _One hundred and Fourteen Experiments and Cures of the Famous
    Physitian Theophrastus Paracelsus, whereunto is added . . . certain
    Secrets of Isaac Hollandus, concerning the Vegetall and Animall
    Work_ (1652), p. 35.

Bernard Trévisan (1406-1490).

§ =43.= =Bernard Trévisan=, a French count of the fifteenth century,
squandered enormous sums of money in the search for the Stone, in which
the whole of his life and energies were engaged. He seems to have become
the dupe of one charlatan after another, but at last, at a ripe old
age, he says that his labours were rewarded, and that he successfully
performed the _magnum opus_. In a short, but rather obscure work, he
speaks of the Philosopher’s Stone in the following words: “This Stone
then is compounded of a Body and Spirit, or of a volatile and fixed
Substance, and that is therefore done, because nothing in the World can
be generated and brought to light without these two Substances, to wit,
a Male and Female: From whence it appeareth, that although these two
Substances are not of one and the same species, yet one Stone doth
thence arise, and although they appear and are said to be two
Substances, yet in truth it is but one, to wit, _Argent-vive_.”[58] He
appears, however, to have added nothing to our knowledge of chemical

    [58] BERNARD, EARL OF TRÉVISAN: _A Treatise of the Philosophers
    Stone_, 1683 (see _Collectanea Chymica: A Collection of Ten Several
    Treatises in Chemistry_, 1684, p. 91).

Sir George Ripley (14--?-1490?).

§ =44.= =Sir George Ripley=, an eminent alchemistic philosopher of the
fifteenth century, entered upon a monastic life when a youth, becoming
one of the canons regular of Bridlington. After some travels he returned
to England and obtaining leave from the Pope to live in solitude, he
devoted himself to the study of the Hermetic Art. His chief work is _The
Compound of Alchymie . . . conteining twelve Gates_, which was written
in 1471. In this curious work, we learn that there are twelve processes
necessary for the achievement of the _magnum opus_, namely, Calcination,
Solution, Separation, Conjunction, Putrefaction, Congelation, Cibation,
Sublimation, Fermentation, Exaltation, Multiplication, and Projection.
These are likened to the twelve gates of a castle which the philosopher
must enter. At the conclusion of the twelfth gate, Ripley says:--

      “Now thou hast conqueryd the _twelve Gates_,
    And all the Castell thou holdyst at wyll,
    Keep thy Secretts in store unto thy selve;
    And the commaundements of God looke thou fulfull:
    In fyer conteinue thy glas styll,
      And Multeply thy Medcyns ay more and more,
      For wyse men done say _store ys no sore_.”[59]

    [59] Sir GEORGE RIPLEY: _The Compound of Alchemy_ (see _Theatrum
    Chemicum Britannicum_, edited by Elias Ashmole, 1652, p. 186).

At the conclusion of the work he tells us that in all that he wrote
before he was mistaken; he says:--

      “I made _Solucyons_ full many a one,
    Of Spyrytts, Ferments, Salts, Yerne and Steele;
    Wenyng so to make the Phylosophers Stone:
    But fynally I lost eche dele,
    After my Boks yet wrought I well;
      Whych evermore untrue I provyd,
      That made me oft full sore agrevyd.”[60]

    [60] _Ibid._ p. 189.

Ripley did much to popularise the works of Raymond Lully in England, but
does not appear to have added to the knowledge of practical chemistry.
His _Bosom Book_, which contains an alleged method for preparing the
Stone, will be found in the _Collectanea Chemica_ (1893).

Thomas Norton (15th Century).

§ =45.= =Thomas Norton=, the author of the celebrated _Ordinall of
Alchemy_, was probably born shortly before the commencement of the
fifteenth century. The _Ordinall_, which is written in verse (and which
will be found in Ashmole’s _Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum_),[61] is
anonymous, but the author’s identity is revealed by a curious device.
The initial syllables of the proem and of the first six chapters,
together with the first line of the seventh chapter, give the following

    “Tomais Norton of Briseto,
    A parfet _Master_ ye maie him call trowe.”

    [61] A prose version will be found in _The Hermetic Museum_
    translated back into English from a Latin translation by Maier.

Samuel Norton, the grandson of Thomas, who was also an alchemist, says
that Thomas Norton was a member of the privy chamber of Edward IV.
Norton’s distinctive views regarding the generation of the metals we
have already mentioned (see § 20). He taught that true knowledge of the
Art of Alchemy could only be obtained by word of mouth from an adept,
and in his _Ordinall_ he gives an account of his own initiation. He
tells us that he was instructed by his master (probably Sir George
Ripley) and learnt the secrets of the Art in forty days, at the age of
twenty-eight. He does not, however, appear to have reaped the fruits of
this knowledge. Twice, he tells us, did he prepare the Elixir, and twice
was it stolen from him; and he is said to have died in 1477, after
ruining himself and his friends by his unsuccessful experiments.


THE ALCHEMISTS (_continued_)


Paracelsus (1493-1541.)

§ =46.= That erratic genius, =Paracelsus=--or, to give him his correct
name, Philip (?) Aureole (?) =Theophrast Bombast von Hohenheim=--whose
portrait forms the frontispiece to the present work--was born at
Einsiedeln in Switzerland in 1493. He studied the alchemistic and
medical arts under his father, who was a physician, and continued his
studies later at the University of Basle. He also gave some time to the
study of magic and the occult sciences under the famous Trithemius of
Spanheim. Paracelsus, however, found the merely theoretical “book
learning” of the university curriculum unsatisfactory and betook himself
to the mines, where he might study the nature of metals at first hand.
He then spent several years in travelling, visiting some of the chief
countries of Europe. At last he returned to Basle, the chair of Medical
Science of his old university being bestowed upon him. The works of
Isaac of Holland had inspired him with the desire to improve upon the
medical science of his day, and in his lectures (which were, contrary
to the usual custom, delivered not in Latin, but in the German language)
he denounced in violent terms the teachings of Galen and Avicenna, who
were until then the accredited authorities on medical matters. His use
of the German tongue, his coarseness in criticism and his intense
self-esteem, combined with the fact that he did lay bare many of the
medical follies and frauds of his day, brought him into very general
dislike with the rest of the physicians, and the municipal authorities
siding with the aggrieved apothecaries and physicians, whose methods
Paracelsus had exposed, he fled from Basle and resumed his former roving
life. He was, so we are told, a man of very intemperate habits, being
seldom sober (a statement seriously open to doubt); but on the other
hand, he certainly accomplished a very large number of most remarkable
cures, and, judging from his writings, he was inspired by lofty and
noble ideals and a fervent belief in the Christian religion. He died in

Paracelsus combined in himself such opposite characteristics that it is
a matter of difficulty to criticise him aright. As says Professor
Ferguson: “It is most difficult . . . to ascertain what his true
character really was, to appreciate aright this man of fervid
imagination, of powerful and persistent conviction, of unbated honesty
and love of truth, of keen insight into the errors (as he thought them)
of his time, of a merciless will to lay bare these errors and to reform
the abuses to which they gave rise, who in an instant offends by his
boasting, his grossness, his want of self-respect. It is a problem how
to reconcile his ignorance, his weakness, his superstition, his crude
notions, his erroneous observations, his ridiculous inferences and
theories, with his grasp of method, his lofty views of the true scope of
medicine, his lucid statements, his incisive and epigrammatic criticisms
of men and motives.”[62] It is also a problem of considerable difficulty
to determine which of the many books attributed to him are really his
genuine works, and consequently what his views on certain points exactly

    [62] JOHN FERGUSON, M.A.: Article “Paracelsus,” _Encyclopædia
    Britannica_, 9th edition (1885), vol. xviii. p. 236.

Views of Paracelsus.

§ =47.= Paracelsus was the first to recognise the desirability of
investigating the physical universe with a motive other than
alchemistic. He taught that “the object of chemistry is not to make
gold, but to prepare medicines,” and founded the school of
Iatro-chemistry or Medical Chemistry. This synthesis of chemistry with
medicine was of very great benefit to each science; new possibilities of
chemical investigation were opened up now that the aim was not purely
alchemistic. Paracelsus’s central theory was that of the analogy between
man, the microcosm, and the world or macrocosm. He regarded all the
actions that go on in the human body as of a chemical nature, and he
thought that illness was the result of a disproportion in the body
between the quantities of the three great principles--sulphur, mercury,
and salt--which he regarded as constituting all things; for example, he
considered an excess of sulphur as the cause of fever, since sulphur was
the fiery principle, &c. The basis of the iatro-chemical doctrines,
namely, that the healthy human body is a particular combination of
chemical substances: illness the result of some change in this
combination, and hence curable only by chemical medicines, expresses a
certain truth, and is undoubtedly a great improvement upon the ideas of
the ancients. But in the elaboration of his medical doctrines Paracelsus
fell a prey to exaggeration and the fantastic, and many of his theories
appear to be highly ridiculous. This extravagance is also very
pronounced in the alchemistic works attributed to him; for example, the
belief in the artificial creation of minute living creatures resembling
men (called “homunculi”)--a belief of the utmost absurdity, if we are to
understand it literally. On the other hand, his writings do contain much
true teaching of a mystical nature; his doctrine of the correspondence
of man with the universe considered as a whole, for example, certainly
being radically true, though fantastically stated and developed by
Paracelsus himself.


§ =48.= Between the pupils of Paracelsus and the older school of
medicine, as might well be supposed, a battle royal was waged for a
considerable time, which ultimately concluded, if not with a full
vindication of Paracelsus’s teaching, yet with the acceptance of the
fundamental iatro-chemical doctrines. Henceforward it is necessary to
distinguish between the chemists and the alchemists--to distinguish
those who pursued chemical studies with the object of discovering and
preparing useful medicines, and later those who pursued such studies for
their own sake, from those whose object was the transmutation of the
“base” metals into gold, whether from purely selfish motives, or with
the desire to demonstrate on the physical plane the validity of the
doctrines of Mysticism. However, during the following century or two we
find, very often, the chemist and the alchemist united in one and the
same person. Men such as Glauber and Boyle, whose names will ever be
remembered by chemists, did not doubt the possibility of performing the
_magnum opus_. In the present chapter, however, we shall confine our
attention for the most part to those men who may be regarded, for one
reason or another, particularly as _alchemists_. And the alchemists of
the period we are now considering present a very great diversity. On the
one hand, we have men of much chemical knowledge and skill such as
Libavius and van Helmont, on the other hand we have those who stand
equally as high as exponents of mystic wisdom--men such as Jacob Boehme
and, to a less extent, Thomas Vaughan. We have those, who, although they
did not enrich the science of Chemistry with any new discoveries, were,
nevertheless, regarded as masters of the Hermetic Art; and, finally, we
have alchemists of the Edward Kelley and “Cagliostro” type, whose main
object was their own enrichment at their neighbours’ expense. Before,
however, proceeding to an account of the lives and teachings of these
men, there is one curious matter--perhaps the most remarkable of all
historical curiosities--that calls for some brief consideration. We
refer to the “far-famed” Rosicrucian Society.

The Rosicrucian Society.

§ =49.= The exoteric history of the Rosicrucian Society commences with
the year 1614. In that year there was published at Cassel in Germany a
pamphlet entitled _The Discovery of the Fraternity of the Meritorious
Order of the Rosy Cross, addressed to the Learned in General and the
Governors of Europe_. After a discussion of the momentous question of
the general reformation of the world, which was to be accomplished
through the medium of a secret confederacy of the wisest and most
philanthropic men, the pamphlet proceeds to inform its readers that such
an association is in existence, founded over one hundred years ago by
the famous C.R.C., grand initiate in the mysteries of Alchemy, whose
history (which is clearly of a fabulous or symbolical nature) is given.
The book concludes by inviting the wise men of the time to join the
Fraternity, directing those who wished to do so to indicate their desire
by the publication of printed letters, which should come into the hands
of the Brotherhood. As might well be expected, the pamphlet was the
cause of considerable interest and excitement, but although many letters
were printed, apparently none of them were vouchsafed a reply. The
following year a further pamphlet appeared, _The Confession of the
Rosicrucian Fraternity, addressed to the Learned in Europe_, and in
1616, _The Chymical Nuptials of Christian Rosencreutz_. This latter book
is a remarkable allegorical romance, describing how an old man, a
lifelong student of the alchemistic Art, was present at the
accomplishment of the _magnum opus_ in the year 1459. An enormous amount
of controversy took place; it was plain to some that the Society had
deluded them, whilst others hotly maintained its claims; but after about
four years had passed, the excitement had subsided, and the subject
ceased, for the time being, to arouse any particular interest.

Some writers, even in recent times, more gifted for romance than for
historical research, have seen in the Rosicrucian Society a secret
confederacy of immense antiquity and of stupendous powers, consisting of
the great initiates of all ages, supposed to be in possession of the
arch secrets of alchemistic art. It is abundantly evident, however, that
it was nothing of the sort. It is clear from an examination of the
pamphlets already mentioned that they are animated by Lutheran ideals;
and it is of interest to note that Luther’s seal contained both the
cross and the rose--whence the term “Rosicrucian.” The generally
accepted theory regards the pamphlets as a sort of elaborate hoax
perpetrated by Valentine Andreä, a young and benevolent Lutheran divine;
but more, however, than a mere hoax. As the late Mr. R. A. Vaughan
wrote: “. . . this Andreä writes the _Discovery of the Rosicrucian
Brotherhood, a jeu-d’esprit_ with a serious purpose, just as an
experiment to see whether something cannot be done by combined effort to
remedy the defect and abuses--social, educational, and religious, so
lamented by all good men. He thought there were many Andreäs scattered
throughout Europe--how powerful would be their united systematic action!
. . . He hoped that the few nobler minds whom he desired to organize
would see through the veil of fiction in which he had invested his
proposal; that he might communicate personally with some such, if they
should appear; or that his book might lead them to form among themselves
a practical philanthropic confederacy, answering to the serious purpose
he had embodied in his fiction.”[63] His scheme was a failure, and on
seeing its result, Andreä, not daring to reveal himself as the author of
the pamphlets, did his best to put a stop to the folly by writing
several works in criticism of the Society and its claims. Mr. A. E.
Waite, however, whose work on the subject should be consulted for
further information, rejects this theory, and suggests that the
Rosicrucian Society was probably identical with the _Militia Crucifera
Evangelica_, a secret society founded in Nuremburg by the Lutheran
alchemist and mystic, Simon Studion.[64]

    [63] ROBERT ALFRED VAUGHAN, B.A.: _Hours with the Mystics_ (7th
    edition, 1895), vol. ii. bk. 8, chap. ix. p. 134.

    [64] ARTHUR EDWARD WAITE: _The Real History of the Rosicrucians_,

Thomas Charnock (1524-1581).

§ =50.= We must now turn our attention to the lives and teachings of the
alchemists of the period under consideration, treating them, as far as
possible, in chronological order; whence the first alchemist to come
under our notice is Thomas Charnock.

=Thomas Charnock= was born at Faversham (Kent), either in the year 1524
or in 1526. After some travels over England he settled at Oxford,
carrying on experiments in Alchemy. In 1557 he wrote his _Breviary of
Philosophy_. This work is almost entirely autobiographical, describing
Charnock’s alchemistic experiences. He tells us that he was initiated
into the mysteries of the Hermetic Art by a certain James S. of
Salisbury; he also had another master, an old blind man, who on his
death-bed instructed Charnock. Unfortunately, however, Thomas was doomed
to failure in his experiments. On the first attempt his apparatus caught
fire and his work was destroyed. His next experiments were ruined by the
negligence of a servant. His final misfortune shall be described in his
own words. He had started the work for a third time, and had spent much
money on his fire, hoping to be shortly rewarded. . . .

    “Then a _Gentleman_ that oughte me great mallice
    Caused me to be prest to goe serve at _Callys_:
    When I saw there was no other boote,
    But that I must goe spight of my heart roote;
    In my fury I tooke a Hatchet in my hand,
    And brake all my Worke whereas it did stand.”[65]

    [65] THOMAS CHARNOCK: _The Breviary of Naturall Philosophy_ (see
    _Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum_, edited by Ashmole, 1652, p. 295.)

Thomas Charnock married in 1562 a Miss Agnes Norden. He died in 1581. It
is, perhaps, unnecessary to say that his name does not appear in the
history of Chemistry.

Andreas Libavius (1540-1616.)

§ =51.= =Andreas Libavius= was born at Halle in Germany in 1540, where
he studied medicine and practiced for a short time as a physician. He
accepted the fundamental iatro-chemical doctrines, at the same time,
however, criticising certain of the more extravagant views expressed by
Paracelsus. He was a firm believer in the transmutation of the metals,
but his own activities were chiefly directed to the preparation of new
and better medicines. He enriched the science of Chemistry by many
valuable discoveries, and tin tetra-chloride, which he was the first to
prepare, is still known by the name of _spiritus fumans Libavii_.
Libavius was a man possessed of keen powers of observation; and his work
on Chemistry, which contains a full account of the knowledge of the
science of his time, may be regarded as the first text-book of
Chemistry. It was held in high esteem for a considerable time, being
reprinted on several occasions.

[Illustration: PLATE 9.



_To face page 68_]]

Edward Kelley (1555-1595) and John Dee (1527-1608.)

§ =52.= Edward Kelley or Kelly (see plate 9) was born at Worcester on
August 1, 1555. His life is so obscured by various traditions that it is
very difficult to arrive at the truth concerning it. The latest, and
probably the best, account will be found in Miss Charlotte Fell Smith’s
_John Dee_ (1909). Edward Kelley, according to some accounts, was
brought up as an apothecary.[66] He is also said to have entered Oxford
University under the pseudonym of Talbot.[67] Later, he practised as a
notary in London. He is said to have committed a forgery, for which he
had his ears cropped; but another account, which supposes him to have
avoided this penalty by making his escape to Wales, is not improbable.
Other crimes of which he is accused are coining and necromancy. He was
probably not guilty of all these crimes, but that he was undoubtedly a
charlatan and profligate the sequel will make plain. We are told that
about the time of his alleged escape to Wales, whilst in the
neighbourhood of Glastonbury Abbey, he became possessed, by a lucky
chance, of a manuscript by St. Dunstan setting forth the grand secrets
of Alchemy, together with some of the two transmuting tinctures, both
white and red,[68] which had been discovered in a tomb near by. His
friendship with John Dee, or Dr. Dee as he is generally called,
commenced in 1582. Now, =John Dee= (see plate 9) was undoubtedly a
mathematician of considerable erudition. He was also an astrologer, and
was much interested in experiments in “crystal-gazing,” for which
purpose he employed a speculum of polished cannel-coal, and by means of
which he believed that he had communication with the inhabitants of
spiritual spheres. It appears that Kelley, who probably did possess some
mediumistic powers, the results of which he augmented by means of fraud,
interested himself in these experiments, and not only became the
doctor’s “scryer,” but also gulled him into the belief that he was in
the possession of the arch-secrets of Alchemy. In 1583, Kelley and his
learned dupe left England together with their wives and a Polish
nobleman, staying firstly at Cracovia and afterwards at Prague, where it
is not unlikely that the Emperor Rudolph II. knighted Kelley. As
instances of the belief which the doctor had in Kelley’s powers as an
alchemist, we may note that in his Private Diary under the date December
19, 1586, Dee records that Kelley performed a transmutation for the
benefit of one Edward Garland and his brother Francis;[69] and under
the date May 10, 1588, we find the following recorded: “E.K. did open
the great secret to me, God be thanked!”[70] That he was not always
without doubts as to Kelley’s honesty, however, is evident from other
entries in his Diary. In 1587 occurred an event which must be recorded
to the partners’ lasting shame. To cap his former impositions, Kelley
informed the doctor that by the orders of a spirit which had appeared to
him in the crystal, they were to share “their two wives in common”; to
which arrangement, after some further persuasion, Dee consented.
Kelley’s profligacy and violent temper, however, had already been the
cause of some disagreement between him and the doctor, and this incident
leading to a further quarrel, the erstwhile friends parted. In 1589, the
Emperor Rudolph imprisoned Kelley, the price of his freedom being the
transmutative secret, or a substantial quantity of gold, at least,
prepared by its aid. He was, however, released in 1593; but died in
1595; according to one account, as the result of an accident incurred
while attempting to escape from a second imprisonment. Dee merely
records that he received news to the effect that Kelley “was slayne.”

    [66] See, for example, WILLIAM LILLY: _History of His Life and
    Times_ (1715, reprinted in 1822, p. 227).

    [67] See ANTHONY À WOOD’S account of Kelley’s life in _Athenæ
    Oxonienses_ (3rd edition, edited by Philip Bliss, vol. i. col. 639.)

    [68] William Lilly, the astrologer, in his _History of His Life and
    Times_ (1822 reprint, pp. 225-226), relates a different story
    regarding the manner in which Kelley is supposed to have obtained
    the Great Medicine, but as it is told at third hand, it is of little
    importance. We do not suppose that there can be much doubt that the
    truth was that Dee and others were deceived by some skilful
    conjuring tricks, for whatever else Kelley may have been, he
    certainly was a very ingenious fellow.

    [69] _The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee_ (The Camden Society, 1842),
    p. 22.

    [70] _The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee_ (The Camden Society, 1842),
    p. 27.

It was during his incarceration that he wrote an alchemistic work
entitled _The Stone of the Philosophers_, which consists largely of
quotations from older alchemistic writings. His other works on Alchemy
were probably written at an earlier period.[71]

    [71] An English translation of Kelley’s alchemistic works were
    published under the editorship of Mr. A. E. Waite, in 1893.

Henry Khunrath (1560-1605).

§ =53.= =Henry Khunrath= was born in Saxony in the second half of the
sixteenth century. He was a follower of Paracelsus, and travelled about
Germany, practising as a physician. “This German alchemist,” says Mr. A.
E. Waite, “. . . is claimed as a hierophant of the psychic side of the
_magnum opus_, and . . . was undoubtedly aware of the larger issues, of
Hermetic theorems”; he describes Khunrath’s chief work, _Amphitheatrum
Sapientiæ Æternæ_, &c., as “purely mystical and magical.”[72]

    [72] A. E. WAITE: _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_ (1888), p.

Alexander Sethon (?-1604) and Michael Sendivogius (1566?-1646).

§ =54.= The date and birthplace of =Alexander Sethon=, a Scottish
alchemist, do not appear to have been recorded, but =Michael
Sendivogius= was probably born in Moravia about 1566. Sethon, we are
told, was in possession of the arch-secrets of Alchemy. He visited
Holland in 1602, proceeded after a time to Italy, and passed through
Basle to Germany; meanwhile he is said to have performed many
transmutations. Ultimately arriving at Dresden, however, he fell into
the clutches of the young Elector, Christian II., who, in order to
extort his secret, cast him into prison, and put him to the torture, but
without avail. Now, it so happened that Sendivogius, who was in quest of
the Philosopher’s Stone, was staying at Dresden, and hearing of Sethon’s
imprisonment obtained permission to visit him. Sendivogius offered to
effect Sethon’s escape in return for assistance in his alchemistic
pursuits, to which arrangement the Scottish alchemist willingly agreed.
After some considerable outlay of money in bribery, Sendivogius’s plan
of escape was successfully carried out, and Sethon found himself a free
man; but he refused to betray the high secrets of Hermetic philosophy to
his rescuer. However, before his death, which occurred shortly
afterwards, he presented him with an ounce of the transmutative powder.
Sendivogius soon used up this powder, we are told, in effecting
transmutations and cures, and, being fond of expensive living, he
married Sethon’s widow, in the hope that she was in the possession of
the transmutative secret. In this, however, he was disappointed; she
knew nothing of the matter, but she had the manuscript of an alchemistic
work written by her late husband. Shortly afterwards Sendivogius printed
at Prague a book entitled _The New Chemical Light_ under the name of
“Cosmopolita,” which is said to be this work of Sethon’s but which
Sendivogius claimed for his own by the insertion of his name on the
title-page, in the form of an anagram. The tract _On Sulphur_ which was
printed at the end of later editions, however, is said to have been the
genuine work of the Moravian. Whilst his powder lasted, Sendivogius
travelled about, performing, we are told, many transmutations. He was
twice imprisoned in order to extort the secrets of Alchemy from him, on
one occasion escaping, and on the other occasion obtaining his release
from the Emperor Rudolph. Afterwards, he appears to have degenerated
into an impostor, but this is said to have been a _finesse_ to hide his
true character as an alchemistic adept. He died in 1646.[73]

    [73] See F. B.: _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_ (1815), pp.

The _New Chemical Light_ was held in great esteem by the alchemists. The
first part treats at length of the generation of the metals and also of
the Philosopher’s Stone, and claims to be based on practical experience.
The seed of Nature, we are told, is one, but various products result on
account of the different conditions of development. An imaginary
conversation between Mercury, an Alchemist and Nature which is appended,
is not without a touch of humour. Says the Alchemist, in despair, “Now I
see that I know nothing; only I must not say so. For I should lose the
good opinion of my neighbours, and they would no longer entrust me with
money for my experiments. I must therefore go on saying that I know
everything; for there are many that expect me to do great things for
them. . . . There are many countries, and many greedy persons who will
suffer themselves to be gulled by my promises of mountains of gold. Thus
day will follow day, and in the meantime the King or the donkey will
die, or I myself.”[74] The second part treats of the Elements and
Principles (see §§ 17 and 19).

    [74] _The New Chemical Light_, Part I. (see _The Hermetic Museum_,
    vol. ii. p. 125).

[Illustration: PLATE 10.

[by J. Brunn]


_To face page 72_]]

Michael Maier (1568-1622).

§ =55.= =Michael Maier= (see plate 10) was born at Rendsberg (in
Holstein) about 1568. He studied medicine assiduously, becoming a most
successful physician, and he was ennobled by Rudolf II. Later on,
however, he took up the subject of Alchemy, and is said to have ruined
his health and wasted his fortune in the pursuit of the alchemistic
_ignis fatuus_--the Stone of the Philosophers--travelling about Germany
and elsewhere in order to have converse with those who were regarded as
adepts in the Art. He took a prominent part in the famous Rosicrucian
controversy (see § 49), defending the claims of the alleged society in
several tracts. He is said, on the one hand, to have been admitted as a
member of the fraternity; and on the other hand, to have himself founded
a similar institution. A full account of his views will be found in the
Rev. J. B. Craven’s _Count Michael Maier: Life and Writings_ (1910). He
was a very learned man, but his works are somewhat obscure and abound in
fanciful allegories. He read an alchemistic meaning into the ancient
fables concerning the Egyptian and Greek gods and heroes. Like most
alchemists, he held the supposed virtues of mercury in high esteem. In
his _Lusus Serius: or, Serious Passe-time_, for example, he supposes a
Parliament of the various creatures of the world to meet, in order that
Man might choose the noblest of them as king over all the rest. The
calf, the sheep, the goose, the oyster, the bee, the silkworm, flax and
mercury are the chosen representatives, each of which discourses in
turn. It will be unnecessary to state that Mercury wins the day. Thus
does Maier eulogise it: “Thou art the miracle, splendour and light of
the world. Thou art the glory, ornament, and supporter of the Earth.
Thou art the Asyle, Anchor, and tye of the Universe. Next to the minde
of Man, God Created nothing more Noble, more Glorious, or more
Profitable.”[75] His _Subtle Allegory concerning the Secrets of Alchemy,
very useful to possess and pleasant to read_, will be found in the
_Hermetic Museum_, together with his _Golden Tripod_, consisting of
translations of “Valentine’s” “_Practica_” and _Twelve Keys_, Norton’s
_Ordinal_ and Cremer’s spurious _Testament_.

    [75] MICHAEL MAIER: _Lusus Serius: or Serious Passe-time_ (1654), p.

[Illustration: Plate 11.


_To face page 74_]]

Jacob Boehme (1575-1624.)

§ =56.= =Jacob Boehme=, or Behmen (see plate 11), was born at Alt
Seidenberg, a village near Görlitz, in 1575. His parents being poor, the
education he received was of a very rudimentary nature, and when his
schooling days were over, Jacob was apprenticed to a shoemaker. His
religious nature caused him often to admonish his fellow-apprentices,
which behaviour ultimately caused him to be dismissed. He travelled
about as a journeyman shoemaker, returning, however, to Görlitz in 1594,
where he married and settled in business. He claims to have experienced
a wonderful vision in 1598, and to have had a similar vision two years
later. In these visions, the first of which lasted for several days, he
believed that he saw into the inmost secrets of nature; but what at
first appeared dim and vague became clear and coherent in a third
vision, which he tells us was vouchsafed to him in 1610. It was then
that he wrote his first book, the _Aurora_, which he composed for
himself only, in order that he should not forget the mysteries disclosed
to him. At a later period he produced a large number of treatises of a
mystical-religious nature, having spent the intervening years in
improving his early education. These books aroused the ire of the
narrow-minded ecclesiastical authorities of the town, and Jacob suffered
considerable persecution in consequence. He visited Dresden in 1624, and
in the same year was there taken ill with a fever. Returning to Görlitz,
he expired in a condition of ecstasy.

Jacob Boehme was an alchemist of a purely transcendental order. He had,
it appears, acquired some knowledge of Chemistry during his apprentice
days, and he employed the language of Alchemy in the elaboration of his
system of mystical philosophy. With this lofty mystical-religious system
we cannot here deal; Boehme is, indeed, often accounted the greatest of
true Christian mystics; but although conscious of his superiority over
many minor lights, we think this title is due to Emanuel Swedenborg. The
question of the validity of his visions is also one which lies beyond
the scope of the present work;[76] we must confine our attention to
Boehme as an alchemist. The Philosopher’s Stone, in Boehme’s
terminology, is the Spirit of Christ which must “tincture” the
individual soul. In one place he says, “_The Phylosophers Stone_ is a
very dark disesteemed Stone, of a _Gray_ colour, but therein lyeth the
highest Tincture.”[77] In the transcendental sense, this is reminiscent
of the words of Isaiah: “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see
him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. . . . He was despised
and we esteemed him not,” &c.[78]

    [76] For a general discussion of spiritual visions see the present
    writer’s _Matter, Spirit and the Cosmos_ (Rider, 1910), Chapter IV.,
    “On Matter and Spirit.” Undoubtedly Boehme’s visions involved a
    valuable element of truth, but at the same time much that was purely
    relative and subjective.

    [77] JACOB BOEHME: _Epistles_ (translated by J. E., 1649), Ep. iv. §
    111, p. 65.

    [78] _The Book of the Prophet Isaiah_, chap, liii., vv. 2 and 3,

J. B. van Helmont (1577-1644) and F. M. van Helmont (1618-1699.)

§ =57.= =John Baptist van Helmont= (see plate 12) was born in Brussels
in 1577. He devoted himself to the study of medicine, at first following
Galen, but afterwards accepting in part the teachings of Paracelsus;
and he helped to a large extent in the overthrow of the old medical
doctrines. His purely chemical researches were also of great value to
the science. He was a man of profound knowledge, of a religious
temperament, and he possessed a marked liking for the mystical. He was
inspired by the writings of Thomas à Kempis to imitate Christ in all
things, and he practised medicine, therefore, as a work of benevolence,
asking no fee for his services. At the same time, moreover, he was a
firm believer in the powers of the Philosopher’s Stone, claiming to have
himself successfully performed the transmutation of the metals on more
than one occasion, though unacquainted with the composition of the
medicine employed (see § 62). Many of his theoretical views are highly
fantastical. He lived a life devoted to scientific research, and died in

[Illustration: PLATE 12.


(From the Frontispiece to J. B. van Helmont’s _Oriatrike_).

_To face page 76_]]

Van Helmont regarded water as the primary element out of which all
things are produced. He denied that fire was an element or anything
material at all, and he did not accept the sulphur-mercury-salt theory.
To him is due the word “gas”--before his time various gases were looked
upon as mere varieties of air--and he also made a distinction between
gases (which could not be condensed)[79] and vapours (which give liquids
on cooling). In particular he investigated the gas that is now known as
carbon-dioxide (carbonic anhydride), which he termed _gas sylvestre_;
but he lacked suitable apparatus for the collection of gases, and
hence was led in many cases to erroneous conclusions.

    [79] It has since been discovered that all gases can be condensed,
    given a sufficient degree of cold and pressure.

=Francis Mercurius van Helmont= (see plate 12), the son of John Baptist,
born in 1618, gained the reputation of having also achieved the _magnum
opus_, since he appeared to live very luxuriously upon a limited income.
He was a skilled chemist and physician, but held many queer theories,
metempsychosis included.

Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604-1668).

§ =58.= =Johann Rudolf Glauber= was born at Karlstadt in 1604. Of his
life little is known. He appears to have travelled about Germany a good
deal, afterwards visiting Amsterdam, where he died in 1668. He was of a
very patriotic nature, and a most ardent investigator in the realm of
Chemistry. He accepted the main iatro-chemical doctrines, but gave most
of his attention to applied Chemistry. He enriched the science with many
important discoveries; and crystallised sodium sulphate is still called
“Glauber’s Salt.” Glauber, himself, attributed remarkable medicinal
powers to this compound. He was a firm believer in the claims of
Alchemy, and held many fantastic ideas.

Thomas Vaughan (“Eugenius Philalethes”) (1622-1666.)

§ =59.= =Thomas Vaughan=, who wrote under the name of “=Eugenius
Philalethes=,” was born at Newton in Brecknockshire in 1622. He was
educated at Jesus College, Oxford, graduating as a Bachelor of Arts, and
being made a fellow of his college. He appears also to have taken holy
orders and to have had the living of St. Bridget’s (Brecknockshire)
conferred on him.[80] During the civil wars he bore arms for the king,
but his allegiance to the Royalist cause led to his being accused of
“drunkenness, swearing, incontinency and bearing arms for the King”; and
he appears to have been deprived of his living. He retired to Oxford and
gave himself up to study and chemical research. He is to be regarded as
an alchemist of the transcendental order. His views as to the nature of
the true Philosopher’s Stone may be gathered from the following
quotation: “This, reader,” he says, speaking of the mystical
illumination, “is the Christian Philosopher’s Stone, a Stone so often
inculcated in Scripture. This is the Rock in the wildernesse, because in
great obscurity, and few there are that know the right way unto it. This
is the Stone of Fire in Ezekiel; this is the Stone with Seven Eyes upon
it in Zacharie, and this is the White Stone with the New Name in the
Revelation. But in the Gospel, where Christ himself speakes, who was
born to discover mysteries and communicate Heaven to Earth, it is more
clearly described.”[81] At the same time he appears to have carried out
experiments in physical Alchemy, and is said to have met with his death
in 1666 through accidentally inhaling the fumes of some mercury with
which he was experimenting.

    [80] See ANTHONY À WOOD: _Athenæ Oxonienses_, edited by Philip
    Bliss, vol. iii. (1817), cols. 722-726.

    [81] THOMAS VAUGHAN (“Eugenius Philalethes”): _Anima Magica
    Abscondita_ (see _The Magical Writings of Thomas Vaughan_, edited by
    A. E. Waite, 1888, p. 71).

Thomas Vaughan was an ardent disciple of Cornelius Agrippa, the
sixteenth-century theosophist. He held the peripatetic philosophy in
very slight esteem. He was a man devoted to God, though probably guilty
of some youthful follies, full of love towards his wife, and with an
intense desire for the solution of the great problems of Nature. Amongst
his chief works, which are by no means wanting in flashes of mystic
wisdom, may be mentioned _Anthroposophia Theomagica_, _Anima Magica
Abscondita_ (which were published together), and _Magia Adamica; or, the
Antiquitie of Magic_. With regard to his views as expressed in the first
two of these books, a controversy ensued between Vaughan and Henry
Moore, which was marked by considerable acrimony.

“Eirenæus Philalethes” (1623?-?) and George Starkey (?-1665).

§ =60.= The use of the pseudonym “Philalethes” has not been confined to
one alchemist. The cosmopolitan adept who wrote under the name of
“=Eirenæus Philalethes=,” has been confused, on the one hand, with
Thomas Vaughan, on the other hand with George Starkey (?-1665). He has
also been identified with Dr. Robert Child (1613-1654); but his real
identity remains shrouded in mystery.[82] =George Starkey= (or Stirk),
the son of George Stirk, minister of the Church of England in Bermuda,
graduated at Harvard in 1646 and practised medicine in the United States
of America from 1647 to 1650. In 1651 he came to England and practised
medicine in London. He died of the plague in 1665. In 1654-5 he
published _The Marrow of Alchemy_, by “Eirenæus Philoponos
Philalethes,” which some think he had stolen from his Hermetic Master.
Other works by “Eirenæus Philalethes” appeared after Starkey’s death and
became immensely popular. The _Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the
King_ (the most famous of these) and the _Three Treatises_ of the same
author will be found in _The Hermetic Museum_. Some of his views have
already been noted (see §§ 1 and 22). On certain points he differed from
the majority of the alchemists. He denied that fire was an element, and,
also, that bodies are formed by mixture of the elements. According to
him there is one principle in the metals, namely, mercury, which arises
from the aqueous element, and is termed “metalically differentiated
water, _i.e._, it is water passed into that stage of development, in
which it can no longer produce anything but mineral substances.”[83]
Philalethes’s views as to “metallic seed” are also of considerable
interest. Of the seed of gold, which he regarded as the seed, also, of
all other metals, he says: “The seed of animals and vegetables is
something separate, and may be cut out, or otherwise separately
exhibited; but metallic seed is diffused throughout the metal, and
contained in all its smallest parts; neither can it be discerned from
its body: its extraction is therefore a task which may well tax the
ingenuity of the most experienced philosopher. . . .”[84] Well might
this have been said of the electron of modern scientific theory.

    [82] See Mr. A. E. Waite’s _Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers_,
    art. “Eirenæus Philalethes,” and the Biographical Preface to his
    _The Works of Thomas Vaughan_ (1919); also the late Professor
    Ferguson’s “‘The Marrow of Alchemy’,” _The Journal of The Alchemical
    Society_, vol. iii. (1915), pp. 106 _et seq._, and Professor G. L.
    Kittredge’s _Doctor Robert Child, The Remonstrant_ (Camb., Mass.,
    1919). The last mentioned writer strongly urges the identification
    of “Eirenæus Philalethes” with George Starkey.

    [83] “EIRENÆUS PHILALETHES”: _The Metamorphosis of Metals_ (see _The
    Hermetic Museum_, vol. ii. p. 236). Compare with van Helmont’s
    views, § 57.

    [84] _Ibid._, p. 240.



Did the Alchemists achieve the “Magnum Opus”?

§ =61.= The alchemists were untiring in their search for the Stone of
the Philosophers, and we may well ask whether they ever succeeded in
effecting a real transmutation. That many _apparent_ transmutations
occurred, the observers being either self-deceived by a superficial
examination--certain alloys resemble the “noble metals”--or deliberately
cheated by impostors, is of course undoubted. But at the same time we
must not assume that, because we know not the method now, real
transmutations have never taken place. Modern research indicates that it
may be possible to transmute other metals, such as lead or bismuth, into
gold, and consequently we must admit the possibility that amongst the
many experiments carried out, a real transmutation was effected. On the
other hand, the method which is suggested by the recent researches in
question could not have been known to the alchemists or accidentally
employed by them; and, moreover, the quantity of gold which is hoped
for, should such a method prove successful, is far below the smallest
amount that would have been detected in the days of Alchemy. But if
there be one method whereby the metals may be transmuted, there may be
other methods. And it is not altogether an easy task to explain away the
testimony of eminent men such as were van Helmont and Helvetius.

The Testimony of van Helmont.

§ =62.= =John Baptist van Helmont= (see § 57), who was celebrated alike
for his skill as a physician and chemist and for his nobility of
character, testified in more than one place that he had himself carried
out the transmutation of mercury into gold. But, as we have mentioned
above, the composition of the Stone employed on these occasions was
unknown to him. He says: “. . . For truly, I have divers times seen it
[the Stone of the Philosophers], and handled it with my hands: but it
was of colour, such as is in Saffron in its Powder, yet weighty, and
shining like unto powdered Glass: There was once given unto me one
fourth part of one Grain: But I call a Grain the six hundredth part of
one Ounce: This quarter of one Grain therefore, being rouled up in
Paper, I projected upon eight Ounces of Quick-silver made hot in a
Crucible; and straightway all the Quick-silver, with a certain degree of
Noise, stood still from flowing, and being congealed, setled like unto a
yellow Lump: but after pouring it out, the Bellows blowing, there were
found eight Ounces, and a little less than eleven Grains [eight Ounces
less eleven Grains] of the purest Gold: Therefore one only Grain of that
Powder, had transchanged 19186 [19156] Parts of Quick-silver, equal to
itself, into the best Gold.”[85]

    [85] J. B. VAN HELMONT: _Life Eternal_ (see _Oriatrike_, translated
    by J. C., 1662; or _van Helmont’s Workes_, translated by J. C.,
    1664, which is merely the former work with a new title-page and
    preliminary matter, pp. 751 and 752).

And again: “I am constrained to believe that there is the Stone which
makes Gold, and which makes Silver; because I have at distinct turns,
made projection with my hand, of one grain of the Powder, upon some
thousand grains of hot Quick-silver; and the buisiness succeeded in the
Fire, even as Books do promise; a Circle of many People standing by,
together with a tickling Admiration of us all. . . . He who first gave
me the Gold-making Powder, had likewise also, at least as much of it, as
might be sufficient for changing two hundred thousand Pounds of Gold:
. . . For he gave me perhaps half a grain of that Powder, and nine
ounces and three quarters of Quick-silver were thereby transchanged: But
that Gold, a strange man [a stranger], being a Friend of one evenings
acquaintance, gave me.”[86]

    [86] J. B. VAN HELMONT: _The Tree of Life_ (see _Oriatrike_ or _Van
    Helmont’s Workes_, p. 807).

[Illustration: PLATE 13.

_To face page 84_]]

The Testimony of Helvetius.

§ =63.= =John Frederick Helvetius= (see plate 13), an eminent doctor of
medicine, and physician to the Prince of Orange, published at the Hague
in 1667 the following remarkable account of a transmutation he claimed
to have effected. Certain points of resemblance between this account and
that of van Helmont (_e.g._, in each case the Stone is described as a
glassy substance of a pale yellow colour) are worth noticing: “On the 27
December, 1666, in the forenoon, there came to my house a certain man,
who was a complete stranger to me, but of an honest, grave countenance,
and an authoritative mien, clothed in a simple garb like that of a
Memnonite. . . .

“After we had exchanged salutations, he asked me whether he might have
some conversation with me. He wished to say something to me about the
Pyrotechnic Art, as he had read one of my tracts (directed against the
sympathetic Powder of Dr. Digby), in which I hinted a suspicion whether
the Grand Arcanum of the Sages was not after all a gigantic hoax. He,
therefore, took that opportunity of asking me whether I could not
believe that such a grand mystery might exist in the nature of things,
by means of which a physician could restore any patient whose vitals
were not irreparably destroyed. I answered: ‘Such a Medicine would be a
most desirable acquisition for any physician; nor can any man tell how
many secrets there may be hidden in Nature; yet, though I have read much
about the truth of this Art, it has never been my good fortune to meet
with a real Master of the Alchemical Science.’ I also enquired whether
he was a medical man. . . . In reply, he . . . described himself as a
brassfounder. . . . After some further conversation, the Artist Elias
(for it was he) thus addressed me: ‘Since you have read so much in the
works of the Alchemists about this Stone, its substance, its colour, and
its wonderful effects, may I be allowed the question, whether you have
not yourself prepared it?’ On my answering his question in the negative,
he took out of his bag a cunningly-worked ivory box, in which there were
three large pieces of a substance resembling glass, or pale sulphur, and
informed me that here was enough of the Tincture for the production of
20 tons of gold. When I had held the precious treasure in my hand for
a quarter of an hour (during which time I listened to a recital of its
wonderful curative properties), I was compelled to restore it to its
owner, which I could not help doing with a certain degree of reluctance.
After thanking him for his kindness in shewing it to me, I then asked
how it was that his Stone did not display that ruby colour, which I had
been taught to regard as characteristic of the Philosopher’s Stone. He
replied that the colour made no difference, and that the substance was
sufficiently mature for all practical purposes. My request that he would
give me a piece of his Stone (though it were no larger than a coriander
seed), he somewhat brusquely refused, adding, in a milder tone, that he
could not give it me for all the wealth I possessed, and that not on
account of its great preciousness, but for some other reason which it
was not lawful for him to divulge; . . .

Helvetius obtains the Philosopher’s Stone.

§ =64.= “When my strange visitor had concluded his narrative, I besought
him to give me a proof of his assertion, by performing the transmutatory
operation on some metals in my presence. He answered evasively, that he
could not do so then, but that he would return in three weeks, and that,
if he was then at liberty to do so, he would shew me something that
would make me open my eyes. He appeared punctually to the promised day,
and invited me to take a walk with him, in the course of which we
discoursed profoundly on the secrets of Nature in fire, though I noticed
that my companion was very chary in imparting information about the
Grand Arcanum. . . . At last I asked him point-blank to show me the
transmutation of metals. I besought him to come and dine with me, and to
spend the night at my house; I entreated; I expostulated; but in vain.
He remained firm. I reminded him of his promise. He retorted that his
promise had been conditional upon his being permitted to reveal the
secret to me. At last, however, I prevailed upon him to give me a piece
of his precious Stone--a piece no larger than a grain of rape seed. He
delivered it to me as if it were the most princely donation in the
world. Upon my uttering a doubt whether it would be sufficient to tinge
more than four grains of lead, he eagerly demanded it back. I complied,
in the hope that he would exchange it for a larger piece; instead of
which he divided it in two with his thumb, threw away one-half and gave
me back the other, saying: ‘Even now it is sufficient for you.’ Then I
was still more heavily disappointed, as I could not believe that
anything could be done with so small a particle of the Medicine. He,
however, bade me take two drachms, or half an ounce of lead, or even a
little more, and to melt it in the crucible; for the Medicine would
certainly not tinge more of the base metal than it was sufficient for. I
answered that I could not believe that so small a quantity of Tincture
could transform so large a mass of lead. But I had to be satisfied with
what he had given me, and my chief difficulty was about the application
of the Tincture. I confessed that when I held his ivory box in my hand,
I had managed to extract a few crumbs of his Stone, but that they had
changed my lead, not into gold, but only into glass. He laughed, and
said that I was more expert at theft than at the application of the
Tincture. ‘You should have protected your spoil with “yellow wax,” then
it would have been able to penetrate the lead and to transmute it into
gold.’ . . .

Helvetius performs a Transmutation.

§ =65.= “. . . With . . . a promise to return at nine o’clock the next
morning, he left me. But at the stated hour on the following day he did
not make his appearance; in his stead, however, there came, a few hours
later, a stranger, who told me that his friend the Artist was
unavoidably detained, but that he would call at three o’clock in the
afternoon. The afternoon came; I waited for him till half-past seven
o’clock. He did not appear. Thereupon my wife came and tempted me to try
the transmutation myself. I determined, however, to wait till the
morrow, and in the meantime, ordered my son to light the fire, as I was
now almost sure that he was an impostor. On the morrow, however, I
thought that I might at least make an experiment with the piece of
‘Tincture’ which I had received; if it turned out a failure, in spite of
my following his directions closely, I might then be quite certain that
my visitor had been a mere pretender to a knowledge of this Art. So I
asked my wife to put the Tincture in wax, and I myself, in the meantime,
prepared six drachms of lead; I then cast the Tincture, enveloped as it
was in wax, on the lead; as soon as it was melted, there was a hissing
sound and a slight effervescence, and after a quarter of an hour I found
that the whole mass of lead had been turned into the finest gold. Before
this transmutation took place, the compound became intensely green, but
as soon as I had poured it into the melting pot it assumed a hue like
blood. When it cooled, it glittered and shone like gold. We immediately
took it to the goldsmith, who at once declared it to be the finest gold
he had ever seen, and offered to pay fifty florins an ounce for it.

Helvetius’s Gold Assayed.

§ =66.= “The rumour, of course, spread at once like wildfire through the
whole city; and in the afternoon, I had visits from many illustrious
students of this Art; I also received a call from the Master of the Mint
and some other gentlemen, who requested me to place at their disposal a
small piece of the gold, in order that they might subject it to the
usual tests. I consented, and we betook ourselves to the house of a
certain silversmith, named Brechtil, who submitted a small piece of my
gold to the test called ‘the fourth’: three or four parts of silver are
melted in the crucible with one part of gold, and then beaten out into
thin plates, upon which some strong _aqua fortis_ [nitric acid] is
poured. The usual result of this experiment is that the silver is
dissolved, while the gold sinks to the bottom in the shape of a black
powder, and after the _aqua fortis_ has been poured off, [the gold,]
melted once again in the crucible, resumes its former shape. . . . When
we now performed this experiment, we thought at first that one-half of
the gold had evaporated; but afterwards we found that this was not the
case, but that, on the contrary, two scruples of the silver had
undergone a change into gold.

Helvetius’s Gold Further Tested.

§ =67.= “Then we tried another test, _viz._, that which is performed by
means of a septuple of Antimony; at first it seemed as if eight grains
of the gold had been lost, but afterwards, not only had two scruples of
the silver been converted into gold, but the silver itself was greatly
improved both in quality and malleability. Thrice I performed this
infallible test, discovering that every drachm of gold produced an
increase of a scruple of gold, but the silver is excellent and extremely
flexible. Thus I have unfolded to you the whole story from beginning to
end. The gold I still retain in my possession, but I cannot tell you
what has become of the Artist Elias. Before he left me, on the last day
of our friendly intercourse, he told me that he was on the point of
undertaking a journey to the Holy Land. May the Holy Angels of God watch
over him wherever he is, and long preserve him as a source of blessing
to Christendom! This is my earnest prayer on his and our behalf.”[87]

    [87] J. F. HELVETIUS: _The Golden Calf_, ch. iii. (see _The Hermetic
    Museum_, vol. ii. pp. 283 _et seq._).

Testimony such as this warns us not to be too sure that a real
transmutation has never taken place. On the whole, with regard to this
question, an agnostic position appears to be the more philosophical.

The Genesis of Chemistry.

§ =68.= But even if the alchemists did not discover the Grand Arcanum of
Nature, they did discover very many scientifically important facts. Even
if they did not prepare the Philosopher’s Stone, they did prepare a very
large number of new and important chemical compounds. Their labours were
the seeds out of which modern Chemistry developed, and this highly
important science is rightfully included under the expression “The
Outcome of Alchemy.” As we have already pointed out (§ 48), it was the
iatro-chemists who first investigated chemical matters with an object
other than alchemistic, their especial end in view being the
preparation of useful medicines, though the medical-chemist and the
alchemist were very often united in the one person, as in the case of
Paracelsus himself and the not less famous van Helmont. It was not until
still later that Chemistry was recognised as a distinct science separate
from medicine.

The Degeneracy of Alchemy.

§ =69.= In another direction the Outcome of Alchemy was of a very
distressing nature. Alchemy was in many respects eminently suitable as a
cloak for fraud, and those who became “alchemists” with the sole object
of accumulating much wealth in a short space of time, finding that the
legitimate pursuit of the Art did not enable them to realise their
expectations in this direction, availed themselves of this fact. There
is, indeed, some evidence that the degeneracy of Alchemy had commenced
as early as the fourteenth century, but the attainment of the _magnum
opus_ was regarded as possible for some three or more centuries.

The alchemistic promises of health, wealth and happiness and a
pseudo-mystical style of language were effectively employed by these
impostors. Some more or less ingenious tricks--such as the use of hollow
stirring-rods, in which the gold was concealed, &c.--convinced a
credulous public of the validity of their claims. Of these
pseudo-alchemists we have already made the acquaintance of Edward
Kelley, but chief of them all is generally accounted the notorious
“Count Cagliostro.” That “Cagliostro” is rightfully placed in the
category of pseudo-alchemists is certain, but it also appears equally
certain that, charlatan though he was, posterity has not always done
him that justice which is due to all men, however bad they may be.

“Count Cagliostro” (--?-1795).

§ =70.= Of the birth and early life of the personage calling himself
“=Count Cagliostro=” nothing is known with any degree of certainty, even
his true name being enveloped in mystery. It has, indeed, been usual to
identify him with the notorious Italian swindler, Giuseppe Balsamo, who,
born at Palermo in 1743 (or 1748), apparently disappeared from mortal
ken after some thirty years, of which the majority were spent in
committing various crimes. “Cagliostro’s” latest biographer,[88] who
appears to have gone into the matter very thoroughly, however, throws
very grave doubts on the truth of this theory.

    [88] W. R. H. TROWBRIDGE: _Cagliostro_: _The Splendour and Misery of
    a Master of Magic_ (1910). We must acknowledge our indebtedness for
    many of the particulars which follow to this work. It is, however,
    unfortunately marred by a ridiculous attempt to show a likeness
    between “Cagliostro” and Swedenborg, for which, by the way, Mr.
    Trowbridge has already been criticised by the _Spectator_. It may
    justly be said of Swedenborg that he was scrupulously honest and
    sincere in his beliefs as well as in his actions; and, as a
    philosopher, it is only now being discovered how really great he
    was. He did, indeed, claim to have converse with spiritual beings;
    but the results of modern psychical research have robbed such claims
    of any inherent impossibility, and in Swedenborg’s case there is
    very considerable evidence for their validity.

[Illustration: PLATE 14.

_To face page 92_]]

If the earlier part of “Cagliostro’s” life is unknown, the latter part
is so overlaid with legends and lies, that it is almost impossible to
get at the truth concerning it. In 1776 Cagliostro and his wife were in
London, where “Cagliostro” became a Freemason, joining a lodge connected
with “The Order of Strict Observance,” a secret society incorporated
with Freemasonry, and which (on the Continent, at least) was concerned
largely with occult subjects. “Cagliostro,” however, was unsatisfied
with its rituals and devised a new system which he called Egyptian
Masonry. Egyptian Masonry, he taught, was to reform the whole world, and
he set out, leaving England for the Continent, to convert Masons and
others to his views. We must look for the motive power of his
extraordinary career in vanity and a love of mystery-mongering, without
any true knowledge of the occult; it is probable, indeed, that
ultimately his unbounded vanity triumphed over his reason and that he
actually believed in his own pretensions. That he did possess hypnotic
and clairvoyant powers is, we think, at least probable; but it is none
the less certain that, when such failed him, he had no scruples against
employing other means of convincing the credulous of the validity of his
claims. This was the case on his visit to Russia, which occurred not
long afterwards. At St. Petersburg a youthful medium he was employing,
to put the matter briefly, “gave the show away,” and at Warsaw, where he
found it necessary to turn alchemist, he was detected in the process of
introducing a piece of gold in the crucible containing the base metal he
was about to “transmute.” At Strasburg, which he reached in 1780,
however, he was more successful. Here he appeared as a miraculous healer
of all diseases, though whether his cures are to be ascribed to some
simple but efficacious medicine which he had discovered, to hypnotism,
to the power of the imagination on the part of his patients, or to the
power of imagination on the part of those who have recorded the alleged
cures, is a question into which we do not propose to enter. At
Strasburg “Cagliostro” came into contact with the Cardinal de Rohan, and
a fast friendship sprang up between the two, which, in the end, proved
“Cagliostro’s” ruin. The “Count” next visited Bordeaux and Lyons,
successfully founding lodges of Egyptian Masonry. From the latter town
he proceeded to Paris, where he reached the height of his fame. He
became extraordinarily rich, although he is said to have asked, and to
have accepted, no fee for his services as a healer. On the other hand,
there was a substantial entrance-fee to the mysteries of Egyptian
Masonry, which, with its alchemistic promises of health and wealth,
prospered exceedingly. At the summit of his career, however, fortune
forsook him. As a friend of de Rohan, he was arrested in connection with
the Diamond Necklace affair, on the word of the infamous Countess de
Lamotte; although, of whatever else he may have been guilty, he was
perfectly innocent of this charge. After lying imprisoned in the
Bastille for several months, he was tried by the French Parliament,
pronounced innocent, and released. Immediately, however, the king
banished him, and he left Paris for London, where he seems to have been
persistently persecuted by agents of the French king. He returned to the
Continent, ultimately reaching Italy, where he was arrested by the
Inquisition and condemned to death on the charge of being a Freemason (a
dire offence in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church). The sentence,
however, was modified to one of perpetual imprisonment, and he was
confined in the Castle of San Leo, where he died in 1795, after four
years of imprisonment, in what manner is not known.



The Birth of Modern Chemistry.

§ =71.= Chemistry as distinct from Alchemy and Iatro-chemistry commenced
with Robert Boyle (see plate 15), who first clearly recognised that its
aim is neither the transmutation of the metals nor the preparation of
medicines, but the observation and generalisation of a certain class of
phenomena; who denied the validity of the alchemistic view of the
constitution of matter, and enunciated the definition of an element
which has since reigned supreme in Chemistry; and who enriched the
science with observations of the utmost importance. Boyle, however, was
a man whose ideas were in advance of his times, and intervening between
the iatro-chemical period and the Age of Modern Chemistry proper came
the period of the Phlogistic Theory--a theory which had a certain
affinity with the ideas of the alchemists.

[Illustration: PLATE 15.


_To face page 94_]]

The Phlogiston Theory.

§ =72.= The phlogiston theory was mainly due to Georg Ernst Stahl
(1660-1734). Becher (1635-1682) had attempted to revive the once
universally accepted sulphur-mercury-salt theory of the alchemists in a
somewhat modified form, by the assumption that all substances consist of
three earths--the combustible, mercurial, and vitreous; and herein is
to be found the germ of Stahl’s phlogistic theory. According to Stahl,
all combustible bodies (including those metals that change on heating)
contain _phlogiston_, the principle of combustion, which escapes in the
form of flame when such substances are burned. According to this theory,
therefore, the metals are compounds, since they consist of a metallic
calx (what we now call the “oxide” of the metal) combined with
phlogiston; and, further, to obtain the metal from the calx it is only
necessary to act upon it with some substance rich in phlogiston. Now,
coal and charcoal are both almost completely combustible, leaving very
little residue; hence, according to this theory, they must consist very
largely of phlogiston; and, as a matter of fact, metals can be obtained
by heating their calces with either of these substances. Many other
facts of a like nature were explicable in terms of the phlogiston
theory, and it became exceedingly popular. Chemists at this time did not
pay much attention to the balance; it was observed, however, that metals
increased in weight on calcination, but this was “explained” on the
assumption that phlogiston possessed negative weight. Antoine Lavoisier
(1743-1794), utilising Priestley’s discovery of oxygen (called
“dephlogisticated air” by its discoverer) and studying the weight
relations accompanying combustion, demonstrated the non-validity of the
phlogistic theory[89] and proved combustion to be the combination of the
substance burnt with a certain constituent of the air, the oxygen. By
this time Alchemy was to all intents and purposes defunct, Boerhave
(1668-1738) was the last eminent chemist to give any support to its
doctrines, and the new chemistry of Lavoisier gave it a final
death-blow. We now enter upon the Age of Modern Chemistry, but we shall
deal in this chapter with the history of chemical theory only so far as
is necessary in pursuance of our primary object, and hence our account
will be very far from complete.

    [89] It should be noted, however, that if by the term “phlogiston”
    we were to understand energy and not some form of matter, most of
    the statements of the phlogistics would be true so far as they go.

Boyle and the Definition of an Element.

§ =73.= Robert Boyle (1626-1691) had defined an element as a substance
which could not be decomposed, but which could enter into combination
with other elements giving compounds capable of decomposition into these
original elements. Hence, the metals were classed among the elements,
since they had defied all attempts to decompose them. Now, it must be
noted that this definition is of a negative character, and, although it
is convenient to term “elements” all substances which have so far defied
decomposition, it is a matter of impossibility to decide what substances
are true elements with absolute certainty; and the possibility, however
faint, that gold and other metals are of a compound nature, and hence
the possibility of preparing gold from the “base” metals or other
substances, must always remain. This uncertainty regarding the elements
appears to have generally been recognised by the new school of chemists,
but this having been so, it is the more surprising that their criticism
of alchemistic art was not less severe.

The Stoichiometric Laws.

§ =74.= With the study of the relative weights in which substances
combine, certain generalisations or “natural laws” of supreme importance
were discovered. These stoichiometric laws, as they are called, are as

1. “The Law of Constant Proportion”--_The same chemical compound always
contains the same elements, and there is a constant ratio between the
weights of the constituent elements present._

2. “The Law of Multiple Proportions”--_If two substances combine
chemically in more than one proportion, the weights of the one which
combine with a given weight of the other, stand in a simple rational
ratio to one another._

3. “The Law of Combining Weights”--_Substances combine either in the
ratio of their combining numbers, or in simple rational multiples or
submultiples of these numbers._ (The weights of different substances
which combine with a given weight of some particular substance, which is
taken as the unit, are called the combining numbers of such substances
with reference to this unit. The usual unit now chosen is 8 grammes of

    [90] In order that these laws may hold good, it is, of course,
    necessary that the substances are weighed under precisely similar
    conditions. To state these laws in a more absolute form, we can
    replace the term “weight” by “mass,” or in preference, “inertia”;
    for the inertias of bodies are proportional to their weights,
    providing that they are weighed under precisely similar conditions.
    For a discussion of the exact significance of these terms “mass” and
    “inertia,” the reader is referred to the present writer’s _Matter,
    Spirit and the Cosmos_ (Rider, 1910), Chapter I., “On the Doctrine
    of the Indestructibility of Matter.”

As examples of these laws we may take the few following simple facts:--

1. Pure water is found always to consist of oxygen and hydrogen combined
in the ratio of 1·008 parts by weight of the latter to 8 parts by weight
of the former; and pure sulphur-dioxide, to take another example, is
found always to consist of sulphur and oxygen combined in the ratio of
8·02 parts by weight of sulphur to 8 parts by weight of oxygen. (The Law
of Constant Proportion.)

2. Another compound is known consisting only of oxygen and hydrogen,
which, however, differs entirely in its properties from water. It is
found always to consist of oxygen and hydrogen combined in the ratio of
1·008 parts by weight of the latter to 16 parts by weight of the former,
_i.e._, in it a definite weight of hydrogen is combined with an amount
of oxygen _exactly twice_ that which is combined with the same weight of
hydrogen in water. No definite compound has been discovered with a
constitution intermediate between these two. Other compounds consisting
only of sulphur and oxygen are also known. One of these (viz.,
sulphur-trioxide, or sulphuric anhydride) is found always to consist of
sulphur and oxygen combined in the ratio of 5·35 parts by weight of
sulphur to 8 parts by weight of oxygen. We see, therefore, that the
weights of sulphur combined with a definite weight of oxygen in the two
compounds called respectively “sulphur-dioxide” and “sulphur-trioxide,”
are in the proportion of 8·02 to 5·35, _i.e._, 3 : 2. Similar simple
ratios are obtained in the case of all the other compounds. (The Law of
Multiple Proportions.)

3. From the data given in (1) above we can fix the combining number of
hydrogen as 1·008, that of sulphur as 8·02. Now, compounds are known
containing sulphur and hydrogen, and, in each case, the weight of
sulphur combined with 1·008 grammes of hydrogen is found always to be
either 8·02 grammes or some multiple or submultiple of this quantity.
Thus, in the simplest compound of this sort, containing only hydrogen
and sulphur (viz., sulphuretted-hydrogen or hydrogen sulphide), 1·008
grammes of hydrogen is found always to be combined with 16·04 grammes of
sulphur, _i.e._, exactly twice the above quantity. (The Law of Combining

Berthollet (1748-1822) denied the truth of the law of constant
proportion, and a controversy ensued between this chemist and Proust
(1755-1826), who undertook a research to settle the question, the
results of which were in entire agreement with the law, and were
regarded as completely substantiating it.

[Illustration: PLATE 16.

[by Worthington, after Allen]


_To face page 100_]]

Dalton’s Atomic Theory.

§ =75.= At the beginning of the nineteenth century, John Dalton (see
plate 15) put forward his Atomic Theory in explanation of these facts.
This theory assumes (1) that all matter is made up of small indivisible
and indestructible particles, called “atoms”; (2) that all atoms are
_not_ alike, there being as many different sorts of atoms as there are
elements; (3) that the atoms constituting any one element are exactly
alike and are of definite weight; and (4) that compounds are produced by
the combination of different atoms. Now, it is at once evident that if
matter be so constituted, the stoichiometric laws must necessarily
follow. For the smallest particle of any definite compound (now called a
“molecule”) must consist of a definite assemblage of different atoms,
and these atoms are of definite weight: whence the law of constant
proportion. One atom of one substance may combine with 1, 2, 3 . . .
atoms of some other substance, but it cannot combine with some
fractional part of an atom, since the atoms are indivisible: whence the
law of multiple proportions. And these laws holding good, and the atoms
being of definite weight, the law of combining weights necessarily
follows. Dalton’s Atomic Theory gave a simple and intelligible
explanation of these remarkable facts regarding the weights of
substances entering into chemical combination, and, therefore, gained
universal acceptance. But throughout the history of Chemistry can be
discerned a spirit of revolt against it as an explanation of the
absolute constitution of matter. The tendency of scientific philosophy
has always been towards Monism as opposed to Dualism, and here were not
merely two eternals, but several dozen; Dalton’s theory denied the unity
of the Cosmos, it lacked the unifying principle of the alchemists. It is
only in recent times that it has been recognised that a scientific
hypothesis may be very useful without being altogether true. As to the
usefulness of Dalton’s theory there can be no question; it has
accomplished that which no other hypothesis could have done; it rendered
the concepts of a chemical element, a chemical compound and a chemical
reaction definite; and has, in a sense, led to the majority of the
discoveries in the domain of Chemistry that have been made since its
enunciation. But as an expression of absolute truth, Dalton’s theory, as
is very generally recognised nowadays, fails to be satisfactory. In the
past, however, it has been the philosophers of the materialistic school
of thought, rather than the chemists _quâ_ chemists, who have
insisted on the absolute truth of the Atomic Theory; Kekulé, who by
developing Franklin’s theory of atomicity or valency[91] made still more
definite the atomic view of matter, himself expressed grave doubts as to
the absolute truth of Dalton’s theory; but he regarded it as
_chemically_ true, and thus voices what appears to be the opinion of the
majority of chemists nowadays, namely, there are such things as chemical
atoms and chemical elements, incapable of being decomposed by purely
chemical means, but that such are not absolute atoms or absolute
elements, and consequently not impervious to all forms of action. But
of this more will be said later.

    [91] The term “valency” is not altogether an easy one to define; we
    will, however, here do our best to make plain its significance. In a
    definite chemical compound we must assume that the atoms
    constituting each molecule are in some way bound together (though
    not, of course, rigidly), and we may speak of “bonds” or “links of
    affinity,” taking care, however, not to interpret such terms too
    literally. Now, the number of “affinity links” which one atom can
    exert is not unlimited; indeed, according to the valency theory as
    first formulated, it is fixed and constant. It is this number which
    is called the “valency” of the element; but it is now known that the
    “valency” in most cases can vary between certain limits. Hydrogen,
    however, appears to be invariably univalent, and is therefore taken
    as the unit of valency. Thus, Carbon is quadrivalent in the
    methane-molecule, which consists of one atom of carbon combined
    with four atoms of hydrogen; and Oxygen is divalent in the
    water-molecule, which consists of one atom of oxygen combined with
    two atoms of hydrogen. Hence, we should expect to find one atom of
    carbon combining with two of oxygen, which is the case in the
    carbon-dioxide--(carbonic anhydride)--molecule. For a development of
    the thesis, so far as the compounds of carbon are concerned, that
    each specific “affinity link” corresponds in general to a definite
    and constant amount of energy, which is evolved as heat on
    disruption of the bond, the reader is referred to the present
    writer’s monograph _On the Calculation of Thermo-Chemical Constants_
    (Arnold, 1909). The phenomena of valency find their explanation in
    modern views concerning the constitution of atoms (see § 81).

The Determination of the Atomic Weights of the Elements.

§ =76.= With the acceptance of Dalton’s Atomic Theory, it became
necessary to determine the atomic weights of the various elements,
_i.e._, not the absolute atomic weights, but the relative weights of the
various atoms with reference to one of them as unit.[92] We cannot in
this place enter upon a discussion of the various difficulties, both of
an experimental and theoretical nature, which were involved in this
problem, save to remark that the correct atomic weights could be arrived
at only with the acceptance of Avogadro’s Hypothesis. This hypothesis,
which is to the effect that equal volumes of different gases measured at
the same temperature and pressure contain an equal number of gaseous
molecules, was put forward in explanation of a number of facts connected
with the physical behaviour of gases; but its importance was for some
time unrecognised, owing to the fact that the distinction between atoms
and molecules was not yet clearly drawn. A list of those chemical
substances at present recognised as “elements,” together with their
atomic weights, will be found on pp. 106, 107.

    [92] Since hydrogen is the lightest of all known substances, the
    unit, Hydrogen = 1, was at one time usually employed. However, it
    was seen to be more convenient to express the atomic weights in
    terms of the weight of the oxygen-atom, and the unit, Oxygen = 16 is
    now always employed. This value for the oxygen-atom was chosen so
    that the approximate atomic weights would in most cases remain
    unaltered by the change.

Prout’s Hypothesis.

§ =77.= It was observed by a chemist of the name of Prout, that, the
atomic weight of hydrogen being taken as the unit, the atomic weights
of nearly all the elements approximated to whole numbers; and in 1815 he
suggested as the reason for this regularity, that all the elements
consist solely of hydrogen. Prout’s Hypothesis received on the whole a
very favourable reception; it harmonised Dalton’s Theory with the grand
concept of the unity of matter--all matter was hydrogen in essence; and
Thomas Thomson undertook a research to demonstrate its truth. On the
other hand, however, the eminent Swedish chemist, Berzelius, who had
carried out many atomic weight determinations, criticised both Prout’s
Hypothesis and Thomson’s research (which latter, it is true, was
worthless) in most severe terms; for the hypothesis amounted to
this--that the decimals in the atomic weights obtained experimentally by
Berzelius, after so much labour, were to be regarded as so many errors.
In 1844, Marignac suggested half the hydrogen atom as the unit, for the
element chlorine, with an atomic weight of 35·5, would not fit in with
Prout’s Hypothesis as originally formulated; and later, Dumas suggested
one-quarter. With this theoretical division of the hydrogen-atom, the
hypothesis lost its simplicity and charm, and was doomed to downfall.
Recent and most accurate atomic weight determinations show clearly that
the atomic weights are not exactly whole numbers, but that,
nevertheless, the majority of them (if expressed in terms of O = 16 as
the unit) do approximate very closely to such. The Hon. R. J. Strutt has
recently calculated that the probability of this occurring, in the case
of certain of the commoner elements, by mere chance is exceedingly small
(about 1 in 1,000),[93] and several attempts to explain this remarkable
fact have been put forward. Modern scientific speculations concerning
the constitution of atoms tend towards a modified form of Prout’s
hypothesis, or to the view that the atoms of other elements are, in a
manner, polymerides of hydrogen and helium atoms. As has been pointed
out, it is possible, according to modern views, for elements of
different atomic weight to have identical chemical properties, since
these latter depend only upon the number of free electrons in the atom
and not at all upon the massive central nucleus. By a method somewhat
similar to that used for determining the mass of kathode particles (see
§ 79), but applied to positively charged particles, Sir Joseph Thomson
and Dr. F. W. Aston discovered that the element neon was a mixture of
two isotopic elements in unequal proportions, one having an atomic mass
of 20, the other (present only to a slight extent) having an atomic mass
of 22. Dr. Aston has perfected this method of analysing mixtures of
isotopes and determining their atomic masses.[94] The results are of
great interest. The atomic weight of hydrogen, 1·008, is confirmed. The
elements helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, phosphorus,
sulphur, arsenic, iodine and sodium are found to be simple bodies with
whole-number atomic weights. On the other hand, boron, neon, silicon,
chlorine, bromine, krypton, xenon, mercury, lithium, potassium and
rubidium are found to be mixtures. What is specially of interest is that
the indicated atomic mass of each of the constituents is a whole number.
Thus chlorine, whose atomic weight is 35·46, is found to be a mixture of
two chemically-identical elements whose atomic weights are 35 and 37.
Some of the elements, _e.g._, xenon, are mixtures of more than two

    [93] Hon. R. J. STRUTT: “On the Tendency of the Atomic Weights to
    approximate to Whole Numbers,” _Philosophical Magazine_, [6], vol.
    i. (1901), pp. 311 _et seq._

    [94] F. W. ASTON: “Mass-spectra and Atomic Weights,” _Journal of the
    Chemical Society_, vol. cix. (1921), pp. 677 _et seq._

It is highly probable that what is true of the elements investigated by
Dr. Aston is true of the remainder. It appears, therefore, that the
irregularities presented by the atomic weights of the ordinary elements,
which have so much puzzled men of science in the past, are due to the
fact that these elements are, in many cases, mixtures. As concerns
hydrogen, it is only reasonable to suppose that the close packing of
electrically charged particles should give rise to a slight decrease in
their total mass, so that the atomic weights of other elements referred
to H = 1 should be slightly less than whole numbers, or, what is the
same thing, that the atomic weight of hydrogen referred to O = 16 should
be slightly more than unity.

The “Periodic Law.”

§ =78.= A remarkable property of the atomic weights was discovered, in
the sixties, independently by Lothar Meyer and Mendeléeff. They found
that the elements could be arranged in rows in the order of their atomic
weights so that similar elements would be found in the same columns. A
modernised form of the Periodic Table will be found on pp. 106, 107. It
will be noticed, for example, that the “alkali” metals, Lithium, Sodium,
Rubidium and Cæsium, which resemble one another very closely, fall in
Column 1; the “alkaline earth” metals occur together in Column 2; though
in each case these are accompanied by certain elements with somewhat
different properties. Much the same holds good in the case of the other
columns of this Table; there is manifested a remarkable regularity, with
certain still more remarkable divergences (see notes appended to Table
on pp. 106, 107). This regularity exhibited by the “elements” is of
considerable importance, since it shows that, in general, the properties
of the “elements” are _periodic_ functions of their atomic weights; and,
together with certain other remarkable properties of the “elements,”
distinguishes them sharply from the “compounds.” It may be concluded
with tolerable certainty, therefore, that if the “elements” are in
reality of a compound nature, they are all, in general, compounds of a
like nature distinct from that of other compounds.


  |   0   |   1   |   2   |   3   |   4   |   5   |   6   |   7   |   8    |
  |       |[Hydro-|       |       |       |       |       |Hydro- |        |
  |       |gen][a]|       |       |       |       |       |gen    |        |
  |       |[H =   |       |       |       |       |       |H =    |        |
  |       |1·008] |       |       |       |       |       |1·008  |        |
  |Helium |Lithium|Gluci- |Boron  |Carbon |Nitro- |Oxygen |Fluo-  |        |
  |       |       |num    |       |       |gen    |       |rine   |        |
  |He =   |Li =   |Gl =   |B =    |C =    |N =    |O =    |F =    |        |
  |4·00   |6·94   |9·1    |10·9   |12·005 |14·008 |16·00  |19·0   |        |
  |Neon   |Sodium |Magne- |Alumin-|Silicon|Phos-  |Sulphur|Chlo-  |        |
  |       |       |sium   |ium    |       |phorus |       |rine   |        |
  |Ne =   |Na =   |Mg =   |Al =   |Si =   |P =    |S =    |Cl =   |        |
  |20·2   |23·00  |24·32  |27·1   |28·3   |31·04  |32·06  |35·46  |        |
  |Argon  |Potas- |Calcium|Scan-  |Tita-  |Vana-  |Chro-  |Manga- |Iron    |
  |       |sium[b]|       |dium   |nium   |dium   |mium   |nese   |Fe =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |55·84[c]|
  |A =    |K =    |Ca =   |Sc =   |Ti =   |V =    |Cr =   |Mn =   |Cobalt  |
  |39·9   |39·10  |40·07  |45·1   |48·1   |51·0   |52·0   |54·93  |Co =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |58·97   |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Nickel  |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Ni =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |58·68   |
  |       |Copper |Zinc   |Gallium|Germa- |Arsenic|Sele-  |Bromine|        |
  |       |       |       |       |nium   |       |nium   |       |        |
  |       |Cu =   |Zn =   |Ga =   |Ge =   |As =   |Se =   |Br =   |        |
  |       |63·57  |65·37  |70·1   |72·5   |74·96  |79·2   |79·92  |        |
  |Krypton|Rubi-  |Stron- |Yttrium|Zirco- |Colum- |Molyb- |   ?   |Ruthe-  |
  |       |dium   |tium   |       |nium   |bium   |denum  |       |nium    |
  |Kr =   |Rb =   |Sr =   |Y =    |Zr =   |Cb =   |Mo =   |       |Ru =    |
  |82·92  |85·45  |87·63  |89·33  |90·6   |93·1   |96·0   |       |101·7   |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Rhodium |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Rh =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |102·9   |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Palla-  |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |dium    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Pd =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |106·7   |
  |       |Silver |Cadmium|Indium |Tin    |Antimo-|Tellu- |Iodine |        |
  |       |       |       |       |       |ny     |rium   |[d]    |        |
  |       |Ag =   |Cd =   |In =   |Sn =   |Sb =   |Te =   |I (or  |        |
  |       |107·88 |112·40 |114·8  |118·7  |120·2  |127·5  |J) =   |        |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |126·92 |        |
  |Xenon  |Cæsium |Barium |Lantha-|Cerium |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?    |
  |       |       |       |num    |[e]    |       |       |       |        |
  |Xe =   |Cs =   |Ba =   |La =   |Ce =   |       |       |       |        |
  |130·2  |132·81 |137·37 |139·0  |140·25 |       |       |       |        |
  |       |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |        |
  |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |   ?   |Tanta- |Tung-  |   ?   |Osmium  |
  |       |       |       |       |       |lum    |sten   |       |Os =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |Ta =   |W =    |       |190·9   |
  |       |       |       |       |       |181·5  |184·0  |       |Iridium |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Ir =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |193·1   |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Platinum|
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |Pt =    |
  |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |       |195·2   |
  |       |Gold   |Mercury|Thal-  |Lead   |Bismuth|Polo-  |   ?   |        |
  |       |       |       |lium   |       |       |nium   |       |        |
  |       |Au =   |Hg =   |Tl =   |Pb =   |Bi =   |(210)  |       |        |
  |       |197·2  |200·6  |204·0  |207·20 |208·0  |       |       |        |
  |Emana- |   ?   |Radium |Acti-  |Thorium|Ekatan-|Uranium|   ?   |   ?    |
  |tion   |       |       |nium   |       |talum  |       |       |        |
  |(Niton)|       |Ra =   |  ?    |Th =   |   ?   |U =    |       |        |
  | 222·0 |       |226·0  |       |232·15 |       |238·2  |       |        |


    There are several somewhat different forms of this Periodic Table.
    This is one of the simplest, but it lacks certain advantages of some
    of the more complicated forms. The atomic weights given are those of
    the International Atomic Weights Committee for 1920-1. They are
    calculated on the basis, Oxygen = 16. The number of decimal places
    given in each case indicates the degree of accuracy with which each
    atomic weight has been determined. The letter or letters underneath
    the name of each element is the symbol by which it is invariably
    designated by chemists.

    The number above each column indicates the valency which the
    elements of each group exhibit towards oxygen. Many of the elements
    are exceptional in this respect.

    [a]: The exact position of Hydrogen is in dispute.

    [b]: The positions of Argon and Potassium have been inverted in
    order that these elements may fall in the right columns with the
    elements they resemble; [d]: so also have the positions of Tellurium
    and Iodine.

    [c]: The whole of “Group 8” forms an exception to the Table.

    [e]: There are a number of ill-defined rare earth metals with atomic
    weights lying between those of Cerium and Tantalum. They all appear
    to resemble the elements of “Group 3,” so that their positions in
    the Table cannot be decided with accuracy.

It is now some years since the late Sir William Crookes attempted to
explain the periodicity of the properties of the elements on the theory
that they have all been evolved by a conglomerating process from some
primal stuff--the protyle--consisting of very small particles. He
represented the action of this generative cause by means of a “figure of
eight” spiral, along which the elements are placed at regular intervals,
so that similar elements come underneath one another, as in Mendeléeff’s
table, though the grouping differs in some respects. The slope of the
curve is supposed to represent the decline of some factor (_e.g._,
temperature) conditioning the process, which process is assumed to be of
a recurrent nature, like the swing of a pendulum. After the completion
of one swing (to keep to the illustration of a pendulum) whereby one
series of elements is produced, owing to the decline of the
above-mentioned factor, the same series of elements is not again the
result as would otherwise be the case, but a somewhat different series
is produced, each member of which resembles the corresponding member of
the former series. Thus, if the first series contains, for example,
helium, lithium, carbon, &c., the second series will contain instead,
argon, potassium, titanium, &c. The whole theory, though highly
interesting, is, however, by no means free from defects.

The Corpuscular Theory of Matter.

§ =79.= We must now turn our attention to those recent views of the
constitution of matter which originated to a great extent in the
investigations of the passage of electricity through gases at very low
pressures. It will be possible, however, on the present occasion, to
give only the very briefest account of the subject; but a fuller
treatment is rendered unnecessary by the fact that these and allied
investigations and the theories to which they have given rise have been
fully treated in several well-known works, by various authorities on the
subject, which have appeared during the last few years.[95]

    [95] We have found Prof. Harry Jones’ _The Electrical Nature of
    Matter and Radioactivity_ (1906), Mr. Soddy’s _Radioactivity_
    (1904), and Mr. Whetham’s _The Recent Development of Physical
    Science_ (1909) particularly interesting. Mention, of course, should
    also be made of the standard works of Prof. Sir J. J. Thomson and
    Prof. Rutherford.

When an electrical discharge is passed through a high-vacuum tube,
invisible rays are emitted from the kathode, generally with the
production of a greenish-yellow fluorescence where they strike the
glass walls of the tube. These rays are called “kathode rays.” At one
time they were regarded as waves in the ether, but it was shown by Sir
William Crookes that they consist of small electrically charged
particles, moving with a very high velocity. Sir J. J. Thomson was able
to determine the ratio of the charge carried by these particles to their
mass or inertia; he found that this ratio was constant whatever gas was
contained in the vacuum tube, and much greater than the corresponding
ratio for the hydrogen ion (electrically charged hydrogen atom) in
electrolysis. By a skilful method, based on the fact discovered by Mr.
C. T. R. Wilson, that charged particles can serve as nuclei for the
condensation of water-vapour, he was further able to determine the value
of the electrical charge carried by these particles, which was found to
be constant also, and equal to the charge carried by univalent ions,
_e.g._, hydrogen, in electrolysis. Hence, it follows that the mass of
these kathode particles must be much smaller than the hydrogen ion, the
actual ratio being about 1 : 1700. The first theory put forward by Sir
J. J. Thomson in explanation of these facts, was that these kathode
particles (“corpuscles” as he termed them) were electrically charged
portions of matter, much smaller than the smallest atom; and since the
same sort of corpuscle is obtained whatever gas is contained in the
vacuum tube, it is reasonable to conclude that the corpuscle is the
common unit of all matter.

Proof that the Electrons are not Matter.

§ =80.= This eminent physicist, however, had shown mathematically that a
charged particle moving with a very high velocity (approaching that of
light) would exhibit an appreciable increase in mass or inertia due to
the charge, the magnitude of such inertia depending on the velocity of
the particle. This was experimentally verified by Kaufmann, who
determined the velocities, and the ratios between the electrical charge
and the inertia, of various kathode particles and similar particles
which are emitted by compounds of radium (see §§ 89 and 90). Sir J. J.
Thomson calculated these values on the assumption that the inertia of
such particles is entirely of electrical origin, and thereby obtained
values in remarkable agreement with the experimental. There is,
therefore, no reason for supposing the corpuscle to be matter at all;
indeed, if it were, the above agreement would not be obtained. As
Professor Jones says: “Since we know things only by their properties,
and since all the properties of the corpuscle are accounted for by the
electrical charge associated with it, why assume that the corpuscle
contains anything but the electrical charge? It is obvious that there is
no reason for doing so.

“_The corpuscle is, then, nothing but a disembodied electrical charge_,
containing nothing material, as we have been accustomed to use that
term. It is electricity, and nothing but electricity. With this new
conception a new term was introduced, and, now, instead of speaking of
the corpuscle we speak of the _electron_.”[96] Applying this
modification to the above view of the constitution of matter, we have
what is called “the electronic theory,” namely, that the material atoms
consist of electrons, or units of electricity in rapid motion; which
amounts to this--that matter is simply an electrical phenomenon.

    [96] H. C. JONES: _The Electrical Nature of Matter and
    Radioactivity_ (1906), p. 21.

The Electronic Theory of Matter.

§ =81.= Sir J. J. Thomson has elaborated this theory of the nature and
constitution of matter; he has shown what systems of electrons would be
stable, and has attempted to find therein the significance of
Mendeléeff’s generalisation and the explanation of valency. There can be
no doubt that there is a considerable element of truth in the electronic
theory of matter; the one characteristic property of matter, _i.e._,
inertia, can be accounted for electrically. The fundamental difficulty
is that the electrons are units of negative electricity, whereas matter
is electrically neutral. Several theories have been put forward to
surmount this difficulty. Certainly the electron is a constituent of
matter; but is it the sole constituent? Recent research indicates that,
as already pointed out, all atoms consist of two distinct portions, a
massive central nucleus, whose net charge is positive, surrounded by a
number of electrons, just sufficient to neutralize this charge. The
point of greatest interest is that the indicated number of free
electrons is exactly the number which expresses the position of the
element in the Periodic Table, reckoning helium as 2, lithium as 3, and
so on; and it would seem that the chemical properties of the elements
are determined entirely by these electrons, and are, therefore, not,
strictly speaking, periodic functions of their atomic weights, as was
formerly thought (§ 78), but of their atomic numbers. The exact nature
of the nuclei of the various atoms has yet to be determined: in the
case of the atoms heavier than helium they would appear to be made up of
the nuclei of hydrogen and (or) helium atoms together with--in many
cases--electrons insufficient in number to neutralize the positive
charges associated with these.

The Etheric Theory of Matter.

§ =82.= The analysis of matter has been carried a step further. A
philosophical view of the Cosmos involves the assumption of an
absolutely continuous and homogeneous medium filling all space, for an
absolute vacuum is unthinkable, and if it were supposed that the stuff
filling all space is of an atomic structure, the question arises, What
occupies the interstices between its atoms? This ubiquitous medium is
termed by the scientists of to-day “the Ether of Space.” Moreover, such
a medium as the Ether is demanded by the phenomena of light. It appears,
however, that the ether of space has another and a still more important
function than the transmission of light: the idea that matter has its
explanation therein has been developed by Sir Oliver Lodge. The evidence
certainly points to the conclusion that matter is some sort of
singularity in the ether, probably a stress centre. We have been too
much accustomed to think of the ether as something excessively light and
quite the reverse of massive or dense, in which it appears we have been
wrong. Sir Oliver Lodge calculates that the density of the ether is far
greater than that of the most dense forms of matter; not that matter is
to be thought of as a rarefaction of the ether, for the ether within
matter is as dense as that without. What we call matter, however, is not
a continuous substance; it consists, rather, of a number of widely
separated particles, whence its comparatively small density compared
with the perfectly continuous ether. Further, if there is a difficulty
in conceiving how a perfect fluid like the ether can give rise to a
solid body possessed of such properties as rigidity, impenetrability and
elasticity, we must remember that all these properties can be produced
by means of motion. A jet of water moving with a sufficient velocity
behaves like a rigid and impenetrable solid, whilst a revolving disc of
paper exhibits elasticity and can act as a circular saw.[97] It appears,
therefore, that the ancient doctrine of the alchemistic essence is
fundamentally true after all, that out of the “One Thing” all material
things have been produced by adaptation or modification; and, as we have
already noticed (§ 60), there also appears to be some resemblance
between the concept of the electron and that of the seed of gold, which
seed, it should be borne in mind, was regarded by the alchemists as the
common seed of all metals.

    [97] See Sir OLIVER LODGE, F.R.S.: _The Ether of Space_ (1909).

Further Evidence of the Complexity of the Atoms.

§ =83.= There are also certain other facts which appear to demand such a
modification of Dalton’s Atomic Theory as is found in the Electronic
Theory. One of the characteristics of the chemical elements is that each
one gives a spectrum peculiar to itself. The spectrum of an element
must, therefore, be due to its atoms, which in some way are able, at a
sufficiently high temperature, to act upon the ether so as to produce
vibrations of definite and characteristic wave-length. Now, in many
cases the number of lines of definite wave-length observed in such a
spectrum is considerable, for example, hundreds of different lines have
been observed in the arc-spectrum of iron. But it is incredible that an
atom, if it were a simple unit, would give rise to such a number of
different and definite vibrations, and the only reasonable conclusion is
that the atoms must be complex in structure. We may here mention that
spectroscopic examination of various heavenly bodies leads to the
conclusion that there is some process of evolution at work building up
complex elements from simpler ones, since the hottest nebulæ appear to
consist of but a few simple elements, whilst cooler bodies exhibit a
greater complexity.

Views of Wald and Ostwald.

§ =84.= Such modifications of the atomic theory as those we have briefly
discussed above, although profoundly modifying, and, indeed,
controverting the philosophical significance of Dalton’s theory as
originally formulated, leave its chemical significance practically
unchanged. The atoms can be regarded no longer as the eternal,
indissoluble gods of Nature that they were once supposed to be; thus,
Materialism is deprived of what was thought to be its scientific
basis.[98] But the science of Chemistry is unaffected thereby; the atoms
are not the ultimate units out of which material things are built, but
the atoms cannot be decomposed by purely chemical means; the “elements”
are not truly elemental, but _they are chemical elements_. However, the
atomic theory has been subjected to a far more searching criticism. Wald
argues that substances obey the law of definite proportions because of
the way in which they are prepared; chemists refuse, he says, to admit
any substance as a definite chemical compound unless it does obey this
law. Wald’s opinions have been supported by Professor Ostwald, who has
attempted to deduce the other stoichiometric laws on these grounds
without assuming any atomic hypothesis[99]; but these new ideas do not
appear to have gained the approval of chemists in general. It is not to
be supposed that chemists will give up without a struggle a mental tool
of such great utility as Dalton’s theory, in spite of its defects, has
proved itself to be. There does seem, however, to be logic in the
arguments of Wald and Ostwald, but the trend of recent scientific theory
and research does not appear to be in the direction of Wald’s views.
Certainly, however, it appears that, on the one hand, the atomic theory
is not necessitated by the so-called “stoichiometric laws”; but, on the
other hand, a molecular constitution of matter seems to be demanded by
the phenomenon known as the “Brownian Movement,” _i.e._, the
spontaneous, irregular and apparently perpetual movement of microscopic
portions of solid matter when immersed in a liquid medium; such movement
appearing to be explicable only as the result of the motion of the
molecules of which the liquid in question is built up.[100]

    [98] For a critical examination of Materialism, the reader is
    referred to the present writer’s _Matter, Spirit and the Cosmos_
    (Rider, 1910), especially Chapters I. and IV.

    [99] W. OSTWALD: “Faraday Lecture,” _Journal of the Chemical
    Society_, vol. lxxxv. (1904), pp. 506 _et seq._ See also W. OSTWALD:
    _The Fundamental Principles of Chemistry_ (translated by H. W.
    Morse, 1909), especially Chapters VI., VII. and VIII.

    [100] For an account of this singular phenomenon, see Prof. JEAN
    PERRIN: _Brownian Movement and Molecular Reality_ (translated from
    the _Annales de Chimie et de Physique_, 8me Séries, September, 1909,
    by F. Soddy, M.A., F.R.S., 1910).



“Modern Alchemy.”

§ =85.= Correctly speaking, there is no such thing as “Modern Alchemy”;
not that Mysticism is dead, or that men no longer seek to apply the
principles of Mysticism to phenomena on the physical plane, but they do
so after another manner from that of the alchemists. A new science,
however, is born amongst us, closely related on the one hand to
Chemistry, on the other to Physics, but dealing with changes more
profound and reactions more deeply seated than are dealt with by either
of these; a science as yet without a name, unless it be the not
altogether satisfactory one of “Radioactivity.” It is this science, or,
perhaps we should say, a certain aspect of it, to which we refer (it may
be fantastically) by the expression “Modern Alchemy”: the aptness of the
title we hope to make plain in the course of the present chapter.

X-rays and Becquerel rays.

§ =86.= As is commonly known, what are called X-rays are produced when
an electric discharge is passed through a high-vacuum tube. It has been
shown that these rays are a series of irregular pulses in the ether,
which are set up when the kathode particles strike the walls of the
glass vacuum tube,[101] and it was found that more powerful effects can
be produced by inserting a disc of platinum in the path of the kathode
particles. It was M. Becquerel who first discovered that there are
substances which naturally emit radiations similar to X-rays. He found
that uranium compounds affected a photographic plate from which they
were carefully screened, and he also showed that these uranium
radiations, or “Becquerel rays,” resemble X-rays in other particulars.
It was already known that certain substances fluoresce (emit light) in
the dark after having been exposed to sunlight, and it was thought at
first that the above phenomenon exhibited by uranium salts was of a like
nature, since certain uranium salts are fluorescent; but M. Becquerel
found that uranium salts which had never been exposed to sunlight were
still capable of affecting a photographic plate, and that this
remarkable property was possessed by all uranium salts, whether
fluorescent or not. This phenomenon is known as “radioactivity,” and
bodies which exhibit it are said to be “radioactive.” Schmidt found that
thorium compounds possess a similar property, and Professor Rutherford
showed that thorium compounds evolved also something resembling a gas.
He called this an “emanation.”

    [101] They must not be confused with the greenish-yellow
    phosphorescence which is also produced: the X-rays are invisible.

The Discovery of Radium.

§ =87.= Mme. Curie[102] determined the radioactivity of many uranium and
thorium compounds, and found that there was a proportion between the
radioactivity of such compounds and the quantity of uranium or thorium
in them, with the remarkable exception of certain natural ores, which
had a radioactivity much in excess of the normal, and, indeed, in
certain cases, much greater than pure uranium. In order to throw some
light on this matter, Mme. Curie prepared one of these ores by a
chemical process and found that it possessed a normal radioactivity. The
only logical conclusion to be drawn from these facts was that the ores
in question must contain some unknown, highly radioactive substance, and
the Curies were able, after very considerable labour, to extract from
pitchblende (the ore with the greatest radioactivity) minute quantities
of the salts of two new elements--which they named “Polonium” and
“Radium” respectively--both of which were extremely radioactive.

    [102] See Madame SKLODOWSKA CURIE’S _Radio-active Substances_ (2nd
    ed., 1904).

M. Debierne has obtained a third radioactive substance from pitchblende,
which he has called “Actinium.”

Chemical Properties of Radium.

§ =88.= Radium is an element resembling calcium, strontium, and barium
in chemical properties; its atomic weight was determined by Mme. Curie,
and found to be about 225, according to her first experiments; a
redetermination gave a slightly higher value, which has been confirmed
by a further investigation carried out by Sir T. E. Thorpe.[103] Radium
gives a characteristic spectrum, and is intensely radioactive. It
should be noted that up to the middle of the year 1910 the element
radium itself had not been prepared; in all the experiments carried out
radium salts were employed (_i.e._, certain compounds of radium with
other elements), generally radium chloride and radium bromide. In that
year, however, Mme. Curie, in conjunction with M. Debierne, obtained the
free metal. It is described as a white, shining metal resembling the
other alkaline earth metals. It reacts very violently with water, chars
paper with which it is allowed to come in contact, and blackens in the
air, probably owing to the formation of a nitride. It fuses at 700° C.,
and is more volatile than barium.[104]

    [103] See Sir T. E. THORPE: “On the Atomic Weight of Radium”
    (Bakerian Lecture for 1907. Delivered before the Royal Society, June
    20, 1907), _Proceedings of the Royal Society of London_, vol. lxxx.
    pp. 298 _et seq._; reprinted in _The Chemical News_, vol. xcvii. pp.
    229 _et seq._ (May 15, 1908).

    [104] Madame P. CURIE and M. A. DEBIERNE: “Sur le radium
    métallique,” _Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie
    des Sciences_, vol. cli. (1910), pp. 523-525. (For an English
    translation of this paper see _The Chemical News_, vol. cii. p.

The Radioactivity of Radium.

§ =89.= Radium salts give off three distinct sorts of rays, referred to
by the Greek letters α, β, γ. The α-rays have been shown to consist of
electrically charged (positive) particles, with a mass approximately
equal to that of four hydrogen atoms; they are slightly deviated by a
magnetic field, and do not possess great penetrative power. The β-rays
are similar to the kathode rays, and consist of (negative) electrons;
they are strongly deviated by a magnetic field, in a direction opposite
to that in which the α-particles are deviated, and possess medium
penetrative power, passing for the most part through a thin sheet of
metal. The γ-rays resemble X-rays; they possess great penetrative
power, and are not deviated by a magnetic field. The difference in the
effect of the magnetic field on these rays, and the difference in their
penetrative power, led to their detection and allows of their separate
examination. Radium salts emit also an emanation, which tends to become
occluded in the solid salt, but can be conveniently liberated by
dissolving the salt in water, or by heating it. The emanation exhibits
the characteristic properties of a gas, it obeys Boyle’s Law (_i.e._,
its volume varies inversely with its pressure), and it can be condensed
to a liquid at low temperatures; its density as determined by the
diffusion method is about 100. Attempts to prepare chemical compounds of
the emanation have failed, and in this respect it resembles the rare
gases of the atmosphere--helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon--whence
it is probable that its molecules are monatomic, so that a density of
100 would give its atomic weight as 200.[105] As can be seen from the
table on pp. 106, 107, an atomic weight of about 220 corresponds to a
position in the column containing the rare gases in the periodic system.
That the emanation actually has an atomic weight of these dimensions was
confirmed by further experiments carried out by the late Sir William
Ramsay and Dr. R. W. Gray.[106] These chemists determined the density of
the emanation by actually weighing minute quantities of known volume of
the substance, sealed up in small capillary tubes, a specially
sensitive balance being employed. Values for the density varying from
108 to 113½, corresponding to values for the atomic weight varying from
216 to 227, were thereby obtained. Sir William Ramsay, therefore,
considered that there could no longer be any doubt that the emanation
was one of the elements of the group of chemically inert gases. He
proposed to call it _Niton_, and, for reasons which we shall note later,
considered that in all probability it had an atomic weight of about

    [105] This follows from Avogadro’s Hypothesis, see § 76.

    [106] Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY and Dr. R. W. GRAY: “La densité de
    l’émanation du radium,” _Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de
    l’Académie des Sciences_, vol. cvi. (1910), pp. 126 _et seq._

The Disintegration of the Radium Atom.

§ =90.= Radium salts possess another very remarkable property, namely,
that of continuously emitting light and heat. It seemed, at first, that
here was a startling contradiction to the law of the conservation of
energy, but the whole mystery becomes comparatively clear in terms of
the corpuscular or the electronic theory of matter. The radium-atom is a
system of a large number (see § 81) of corpuscles or electrons, and
contains in virtue of their motion an enormous amount of energy. But it
is known from Chemistry that atomic systems (_i.e._, molecules) which
contain very much energy are unstable and liable to explode. The same
law holds good on the more interior plane--the radium-atom is liable to,
and actually does, explode. And the result? Energy is set free, and
manifests itself partly as heat and light. Some free electrons are shot
off (the β-rays), which, striking the undecomposed particles of salt,
give rise to pulses in the ether (the γ-rays),[107] just as the kathode
particles give rise to X-rays when they strike the walls of the vacuum
tube or a platinum disc placed in their path. The β- and γ-rays do not,
however, result immediately from the exploding radium-atoms, the initial
products being the emanation and one α-particle from each radium-atom

    [107] This view regarding the γ-rays is not, however, universally
    accepted, some scientists regarding them as consisting of a stream
    of particles moving with very high velocities.

“Induced Radioactivity.”

§ =91.= Radium salts have the property of causing surrounding objects to
become temporally radioactive. This “induced radioactivity,” as it may
be called, is found to be due to the emanation, which is itself
radioactive (it emits α-rays only), and is decomposed into minute traces
of solid radioactive deposits. By examining the rate of decay of the
activity of the deposit, it has been found that it is undergoing a
series of sub-atomic changes, the products being termed Radium A, B, C,
&c. It has been proved that all the β- and γ-rays emitted by radium
salts are really due to certain of these secondary products. Radium F is
thought to be identical with Polonium (§ 87). Another product is also
obtained by these decompositions, with which we shall deal later (§ 94).

Properties of Uranium and Thorium.

§ =92.= Uranium and thorium differ in one important respect from radium,
inasmuch as the first product of the decomposition of the uranium and
thorium atoms is in both cases solid. Sir William Crookes[108] was able
to separate from uranium salts by chemical means a small quantity of an
intensely radioactive substance, which he called Uranium X, the residual
uranium having lost most of its activity; and M. Becquerel, on
repeating the experiment, found that the activity of the residual
uranium was slowly regained, whilst that of the uranium X decayed. This
is most simply explained by the theory that uranium first changes into
uranium X. It has been suggested that radium may be the final product of
the breaking up of the uranium-atom; at any rate, it is quite certain
that radium must be evolved in some way, as otherwise there would be
none in existence--it would all have decomposed. This suggestion has
been experimentally confirmed, the growth of radium in large quantities
of a solution of purified uranyl nitrate having been observed. Uranium
gives no emanation. Thorium probably gives at least three solid
products--Meso-thorium, Radio-thorium, and Thorium X, the last of which
yields an emanation resembling that obtained from radium, but not
identical with it.

    [108] Sir WILLIAM CROOKES, F.R.S.: “Radio-activity of Uranium,”
    _Proceedings of the Royal Society of London_, vol. lxvi. (1900), pp.
    409 _et seq._

The Radium Emanation.

§ =93.= We must now more fully consider the radium emanation--a
substance with more astounding properties than even the radium compounds
themselves. By distilling off the emanation from some radium bromide,
and measuring the quantities of heat given off by the emanation and the
radium salt respectively, Professors Rutherford and Barnes[109] proved
that nearly three-fourths of the total amount of heat given out by a
radium salt comes from the minute quantity of emanation that it
contains. The amount of energy liberated as heat during the decay of the
emanation is enormous; one cubic centimetre liberates about four
million times as much heat as is obtained by the combustion of an equal
volume of hydrogen. Undoubtedly this must indicate some profound change,
and one may well ask, What is the ultimate product of the decomposition
of the emanation?

    [109] E. RUTHERFORD, F.R.S., and H. T. BARNES, D.Sc.: “Heating
    Effect of the Radium Emanation,” _Philosophical Magazine_ [6], vol.
    vii. (1904), pp. 202 _et seq._

The Production of Helium from Radium.

§ =94.= It had been observed already that the radioactive minerals on
heating give off Helium--a gaseous element, characterised by a
particular yellow line in its spectrum--and it seemed not unlikely that
helium might be the ultimate decomposition product of the emanation. A
research to settle this point was undertaken by Sir William Ramsay and
Mr. Soddy,[110] and a preliminary experiment having confirmed the above
speculation, they carried out further very careful experiments. “The
maximum amount of the emanation obtained from 50 milligrams of radium
bromide was conveyed by means of oxygen into a [U]-tube cooled in liquid
air, and the latter was then extracted by the pump.” The spectrum was
observed; it “was apparently a new one, probably that of the emanation
itself. . . . After standing from July 17 to 21 the helium spectrum
appeared, and the characteristic lines were observed.” Sir William
Ramsay performed a further experiment with a similar result, in which
the radium salt had been first of all heated in a vacuum for some time,
proving that the helium obtained could not have been occluded in it;
though the fact that the helium spectrum did not immediately appear, in
itself proves this point. Sir William Ramsay’s results were confirmed
by further careful experiments by Sir James Dewar and other chemists. It
was suggested, therefore, that the α-particle consists of an
electrically charged helium-atom, and not only is this view in agreement
with the value of the mass of this particle as determined
experimentally, but it has been completely demonstrated by Professor
Rutherford and Mr. Royds. These chemists performed an experiment in
which the emanation from about one-seventh of a gramme of radium was
enclosed in a thin-walled tube, through the walls of which the
α-particles could pass, but which were impervious to gases. This tube
was surrounded by an outer jacket, which was evacuated. After a time the
presence of helium in the space between the inner tube and the outer
jacket was observed spectroscopically.[111] Now, the emanation-atom
results from the radium-atom by the expulsion of one α-particle; and
since this latter consists of an electrically charged helium-atom, it
follows that the emanation must have an atomic weight of 226 - 4,
_i.e._, 222. This value is in agreement with Sir William Ramsay’s
determination of the density of the emanation. We may represent the
degradation of the radium-atom, therefore, by the following scheme:--

               α-particle (Helium-atom)
              /           4
  Radium-atom                          α-particle (Helium-atom)
      226     \                       /           4
                Emanation (Niton-atom)
                         222          \
                                       Radium-A, &c.

    [110] Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY and FREDERICK SODDY: “Experiments in
    Radioactivity and the Production of Helium from Radium,”
    _Proceedings of the Royal Society of London_, vol. lxxii. (1903),
    pp. 204 _et seq._

    [111] E. RUTHERFORD, F.R.S., and T. ROYDS, M.Sc.: “The Nature of the
    α-Particle from Radio-active Substances,” _Philosophical Magazine_
    [6], vol. xvii. (1909), pp. 281 _et seq._

Nature of this Change.

§ =95.= Here, then, for the first time in the history of Chemistry, we
have the undoubted formation of one chemical element from another, for,
leaving out of the question the nature of the emanation, there can be no
doubt that radium is a chemical element. This is a point which must be
insisted upon, for it has been suggested that radium may be a compound
of helium with some unknown element; or, perhaps, a compound of helium
with lead, since it has been shown that lead is probably one of the end
products of the decomposition of radium. The following considerations,
however, show this view to be altogether untenable: (i.) All attempts to
prepare compounds of helium with other elements have failed. (ii.)
Radium possesses all the properties of a chemical element; it has a
characteristic spectrum, and falls in that column in the Periodic Table
with those elements which it resembles as to its chemical properties.
(iii.) The quantity of heat liberated on the decomposition of the
emanation is, as we have already indicated, out of all proportion to
that obtained even in the most violent chemical reactions; and (iv.) one
very important fact has been observed, namely, that the rate of decay of
the emanation is unaffected by even extreme changes of temperature,
whereas chemical actions are always affected in rate by changes of
temperature. It will also be advisable, perhaps, to indicate some of the
differences between helium and the emanation. The latter is a heavy gas,
condensable to a liquid by liquid air (recently it has been
solidified[112]); whereas helium is the lightest of all known gases
with the exception of hydrogen and has been liquefied only by the most
persistent effort.[113] The emanation, moreover, is radioactive, giving
off α-particles, whereas helium does not possess this property.

    [112] By Ramsay. See _Proceedings of the Chemical Society_, vol.
    xxv. (1909), pp. 82 and 83.

    [113] By Professor Onnes. See _Chemical News_, vol. xcviii. p. 37
    (July 24, 1908).

Is this Change a true Transmutation?

§ =96.= It has been pointed out, however, that (in a sense) this change
(viz., of emanation into helium) is not quite what has been meant by the
expression “transmutation of the elements”; for the reason that it is a
_spontaneous_ change; no effort of ours can bring it about or cause it
to cease.[114] But the fact of the change does go to prove that the
chemical elements are not the discrete units of matter that they were
supposed to be. And since it appears that all matter is radioactive,
although (save in these exceptional cases) in a very slight degree,[115]
we here have evidence of a process of evolution at work among the
chemical elements. The chemical elements are not permanent; they are all
undergoing change; and the common elements merely mark those points
where the rate of the evolutionary process is at its slowest. (See also
§§ 78 and 83.) Thus, the essential truth in the old alchemistic doctrine
of the growth of metals is vindicated, for the metals do grow in the
womb of Nature, although the process may be far slower than appears to
have been imagined by certain of the alchemists,[116] and although gold
may not be the end product. As writes Professor Sir W. Tilden: “. . . It
appears that modern ideas as to the genesis of the elements, and hence
of all matter, stand in strong contrast with those which chiefly
prevailed among experimental philosophers from the time of Newton, and
seem to reflect in an altered form the speculative views of the
ancients.” “. . . It seems probable,” he adds, “that the chemical
elements, and hence all material substances of which the earth, the sea,
the air, and the host of heavenly bodies are all composed, resulted from
a change, corresponding to condensation, in something of which we have
no direct and intimate knowledge. Some have imagined this primal essence
of all things to be identical with the ether of space. As yet we know
nothing with certainty, but it is thought that by means of the
spectroscope some stages of the operation may be seen in progress in the
nebulæ and stars. . . .”[117] We have next to consider whether there is
any experimental evidence showing it to be possible (using the
phraseology of the alchemists) for man to assist in Nature’s work.

    [114] See Professor H. C. JONES: _The Electrical Nature of Matter
    and Radioactivity_ (1906), pp. 125-126.

    [115] It has been definitely proved, for example, that the common
    element potassium is radioactive, though very feebly so (it emits
    β-rays). It is also interesting to note that many common substances
    emit corpuscles at high temperatures.

    [116] Says Peter Bonus, however, “. . . we know that the generation
    of metals occupies thousands of years . . . in Nature’s workshop.
    . . .” (see _The New Pearl of Great Price_, Mr. A. E. Waite’s
    translation, p. 55), and certain others of the alchemists expressed
    a similar view.

    [117] Sir WILLIAM A. TILDEN: _The Elements: Speculations as to their
    Nature and Origin_ (1910), pp. 108, 109, 133 and 134. With regard to
    Sir William Tilden’s remarks, it is very interesting to note that
    Swedenborg (who was born when Newton was between forty and fifty
    years old) not only differed from that great philosopher on those
    very points on which modern scientific philosophy is at variance
    with Newton, but, as is now recognised by scientific men,
    anticipated many modern discoveries and scientific theories. It
    would be a most interesting task to set forth the agreement existing
    between Swedenborg’s theories and the latest products of scientific
    thought concerning the nature of the physical universe. Such,
    however, would lie without the confines of the present work.

The Production of Neon from Emanation.

§ =97.= As we have already indicated above (§ 93), the radium emanation
contains a vast store of potential energy, and it was with the idea of
utilising this energy for bringing about chemical changes that Sir
William Ramsay[118] undertook a research on the chemical action of this
substance--a research with the most surprising and the most interesting
results, for the energy contained within the radium emanation appeared
to behave like a veritable Philosopher’s Stone. The first experiments
were carried out on distilled water. It had already been observed that
the emanation decomposes water into its gaseous elements, oxygen and
hydrogen, and that the latter is always produced in excess. These
results were confirmed and the presence of hydrogen peroxide was
detected, explaining the formation of an excess of hydrogen; it was also
shown that the emanation brings about the reverse change to some extent,
causing oxygen and hydrogen to unite with the production of water, until
a position of equilibrium is attained. On examining spectroscopically
the gas obtained by the action of the emanation on water, after the
removal of the ordinary gases, a most surprising result was
observed--the gas showed a brilliant spectrum of neon, accompanied with
some faint helium lines. A more careful experiment was carried out later
by Sir William Ramsay and Mr. Cameron, in which a silica bulb was
employed instead of glass. The spectrum of the residual gas after
removing ordinary gases was successfully photographed, and a large
number of the neon lines identified; helium was also present. The
presence of neon could not be explained, in Ramsay’s opinion, by leakage
of air into the apparatus, as the percentage of neon in the air is not
sufficiently high, whereas this suggestion might be put forward in the
case of argon. Moreover, the neon could not have come from the aluminium
of the electrodes (in which it might be thought to have been occluded),
as the sparking tube had been used and tested before the experiment was
carried out. The authors conclude: “We must regard the transformation of
emanation into neon, in presence of water, as indisputably proved, and,
if a transmutation be defined as a transformation brought about at will,
by change of conditions, then _this is the first case of transmutation
of which conclusive evidence is put forward_.”[119] However, Professor
Rutherford and Mr. Royds have been unable to confirm this result. They
describe[120] attempts to obtain neon by the action of emanation on
water. Out of five experiments no neon was obtained, save in one case in
which a small air leak was discovered; and, since the authors find that
very minute quantities of this gas are sufficient to give a clearly
visible spectrum, they conclude that Ramsay’s positive results are due,
after all, to leakage of air into the apparatus. But if this is the true
explanation of Ramsay’s results, it is difficult to understand why, in
the case of the experiment with a solution of a copper salt described
below, the presence of neon was not detected, for, if due to leakage,
the proportions of the rare gases present should presumably have been
the same in all the experiments. Further research seems necessary
conclusively to settle the question.

    [118] Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY: “The Chemical Action of the Radium
    Emanation. Pt. I., Action on Distilled Water,” _Journal of the
    Chemical Society_, vol. xci. (1907), pp. 931 _et seq._ ALEXANDER T.
    CAMERON and Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY, _ibid._ “Pt. II., On Solutions
    containing Copper, and Lead, and on Water,” _ibid._ pp. 1593 _et
    seq._ “Pt. III., On Water and Certain Gases,” _ibid._ vol. xciii.
    (1908), pp. 966 _et seq._ “Pt. IV., On Water,” _ibid._ pp. 992 _et

    [119] _Journal of the Chemical Society_, vol. xciii. (1908), p. 997.

    [120] E. RUTHERFORD, F.R.S., and T. ROYDS, M.Sc.: “The Action of
    Radium Emanation on Water,” _Philosophical Magazine_ [6], vol. xvi.
    (1908), pp. 812 _et seq._

Ramsay’s Experiments on Copper.

§ =98.= The fact that an excess of hydrogen was produced when water was
decomposed by the emanation suggested to Sir William Ramsay and Mr.
Cameron that if a solution of a metallic salt was employed in place of
pure water, the free metal might be obtained. These “modern alchemists,”
therefore, proceeded to investigate the action of radium emanation on
solutions of copper and lead salts, and again apparently effected
transmutations. They found on removing the copper from a solution of a
copper-salt which had been subjected to the action of the emanation, and
spectroscopically examining the residue, that a considerable quantity of
sodium was present, together with traces of lithium; and the gas evolved
in the case of a solution of copper nitrate contained, along with much
nitric oxide and a little nitrogen, argon (which was detected
spectroscopically), but no helium. It certainly seemed like a dual
transformation of copper into lithium and sodium, and emanation into
argon. They also observed that apparently carbon-dioxide is continually
evolved from an acid solution of thorium nitrate (see below, § 100). It
is worth while noticing that helium, neon and argon occur in the same
column in the Periodic Table with emanation; lithium and sodium with
copper, and carbon with thorium; in each case the elements produced
being of lighter atomic weight than those decomposed.[121] The authors
make the following suggestions: “(1) That helium and the α-particle are
not identical; (2) that helium results from the ‘degradation’ of the
large molecule of emanation by its bombardment with α-particles; (3)
that this ‘degradation,’ when the emanation is alone or mixed with
oxygen and hydrogen, results in the lowest member of the inactive
series, namely, helium; (4) that if particles of greater mass than
hydrogen or oxygen are associated with the emanation, namely, liquid
water, then the ‘degradation’ of the emanation is less complete, and
neon is produced; (5) that when molecules of still greater weight and
complexity are present, as is the case when the emanation is dissolved
in a solution of copper sulphate, the product of ‘degradation’ of the
emanation is argon. We are inclined to believe too [they say] that (6)
the copper also is involved in this process of degradation, and is
reduced to the lowest term of its series, namely, lithium; and at the
same time, inasmuch as the weight of the residue of alkali, produced
when copper nitrate is present, is double that obtained from the blank
experiment, or from water alone, the supposition is not excluded that
the chief product of the ‘degradation’ of copper is sodium.”[122]

    [121] See pp. 106, 107.

    [122] _Journal of the Chemical Society_, vol. xci. (1907), pp.
    1605-1606. More recent experiments, however, proved that the
    α-particle does consist of an electrically charged helium-atom, and
    this view was latterly accepted by Sir William Ramsay, so that the
    above suggestions must be modified in accordance therewith. (See §

Further Experiments on Radium and Copper.

§ =99.= A little later Madame Curie and Mademoiselle Gleditsch[123]
repeated Cameron and Ramsay’s experiments on copper salts, using,
however, platinum apparatus. They failed to detect lithium after the
action of the emanation, and think that Cameron and Ramsay’s results may
be due to the glass vessels employed. Dr. Perman[124] has investigated
the direct action of the emanation on copper and gold, and has failed to
detect any trace of lithium. The transmutation of copper into lithium,
therefore, must be regarded as unproved, but further research is
necessary before any conclusive statements can be made on the subject.

    [123] Madame CURIE and Mademoiselle GLEDITSCH: “Action de
    l’émanation du radium sur les solutions des sels de cuivre,”
    _Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des Séances de l’Académie des
    Sciences_, vol. cxlvii. (1908), pp. 345 _et seq._ (For an English
    translation of this paper, see _The Chemical News_, vol. xcviii. pp.
    157 and 158.)

    [124] EDGAR PHILIP PERMAN: “The Direct Action of Radium on Copper
    and Gold,” _Proceedings of the Chemical Society_, vol. xxiv. (1908),
    p. 214.

Ramsay’s Experiments on Thorium and allied Metals.

§ =100.= In his presidential address to the Chemical Society, March 25,
1909, after having brought forward some exceedingly interesting
arguments for the possibility of transmutation, Sir William Ramsay
described some experiments which he had carried out on thorium and
allied elements.[125] It was found, as we have already stated (§ 98),
that, apparently, carbon-dioxide was continually evolved from an acid
solution of thorium nitrate, precautions being taken that the gas was
not produced from the grease on the stop-cock employed, and it also
appeared that carbon-dioxide was produced by the action of radium
emanation on thorium nitrate. The action of radium emanation on
compounds (not containing carbon) of other members of the carbon group,
namely, silicon, zirconium and lead, was then investigated; in the cases
of zirconium nitrate and hydro-fluosilicic acid, carbon-dioxide was
obtained; but in the case of lead chlorate the amount of carbon dioxide
was quite insignificant. Curiously enough, the perchlorate of bismuth, a
metal which belongs to the nitrogen group of elements, also yielded
carbon-dioxide when acted on by emanation. Sir William Ramsay concludes
his discussion of these experiments as follows: “Such are the facts. No
one is better aware than I how insufficient the proof is. Many other
experiments must be made before it can confidently be asserted that
certain elements, when exposed to ‘concentrated energy,’ undergo
degradation into carbon.” Some such confirmatory experiments were
carried out by Sir William Ramsay and Mr. Francis L. Usher, and they
also described an experiment with a compound of titanium. Their results
confirm Sir William Ramsay’s former experiments. Carbon-dioxide was
obtained in appreciable quantities by the action of emanation on
compounds of silicon, titanium, zirconium and thorium. In the case of
lead, the amount of carbon dioxide obtained was inappreciable.[126]

    [125] Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY: “Elements and Electrons,” _Journal of the
    Chemical Society_, vol. xcv. (1909), pp. 624 _et seq._

    [126] For a brief account in English of these later experiments see
    _The Chemical News_, vol. c. p. 209 (October 29, 1909).

The Possibility of Making Gold.

§ =101.= It does not seem unlikely that if it is possible to “degrade”
elements, it may be possible to build them up. It has been suggested
that it might be possible to obtain, in this way, gold from silver,
since these two elements occur in the same column in the Periodic Table;
but the suggestion still awaits experimental confirmation. The question
arises, What would be the result if gold could be cheaply produced? That
gold is a metal admirably adapted for many purposes, for which its
scarcity prevents its use, must be admitted. But the financial chaos
which would follow if it were to be cheaply obtained surpasses the
ordinary imagination. It is a theme that ought to appeal to a novelist
of exceptional imaginative power. However, we need not fear these
results, for not only is radium extremely rare, far dearer than gold,
and on account of its instability will never be obtained in large
quantities, but, judging from the above-described experiments, if,
indeed, the radium emanation is the true Philosopher’s Stone, the
quantity of gold that may be hoped for by its aid is extremely small.

The Significance of “Allotropy.”

§ =102.= A very suggestive argument for the transmutation of the metals
was put forward by Professor Henry M. Howe, LL.D., in a paper entitled
“Allotropy or Transmutation?” read before the British Association
(Section B), Sheffield Meeting, 1910. Certain substances are known
which, although differing in their physical properties very markedly,
behave chemically as if they were one and the same element, giving rise
to the same series of compounds. Such substances, of which we may
mention diamond, graphite and charcoal (_e.g._, lampblack)--all of which
are known chemically as “carbon”--or, to take another example, yellow
phosphorus (a yellow, waxy, highly inflammable solid) and red phosphorus
(a difficultly-inflammable, dark red substance, probably possessing a
minutely crystalline structure), are, moreover, convertible one into the
other.[127] It has been customary to refer to such substances as
different forms or allotropic modifications of the same element, and not
to regard them as being different elements. As Professor Howe says, “If
after defining ‘elements’ as substances hitherto indivisible, and
different elements as those which differ in at least some one property,
and after asserting that the elements cannot be transmuted into each
other, we are confronted with the change from diamond into lampblack,
and with the facts, first, that each is clearly indivisible hitherto
and hence an element, and, second, that they differ in every property,
we try to escape in a circle by saying that they are not different
elements because they do change into each other. In short, we limit the
name ‘element’ to indivisible substances which cannot be transmuted into
each other, and we define those which do transmute as _ipso facto_ one
element, and then we say that the elements cannot be transmuted. Is not
this very like saying that, if you call a calf’s tail a leg, then a calf
has five legs? And if it is just to reply that calling a tail a leg does
not make it a leg, is it not equally just to reply that calling two
transmutable elements one element does not make them so?

    [127] Diamond is transformed into graphite when heated by a powerful
    electric current between carbon poles, and both diamond and graphite
    can be indirectly converted into charcoal. The artificial production
    of the diamond, however, is a more difficult process; but the late
    Professor Moissan succeeded in effecting it, so far as very small
    diamonds are concerned, by dissolving charcoal in molten iron or
    silver and allowing it to crystallise from the solution under high
    pressure. Graphite was also obtained. Red phosphorus is produced
    from yellow phosphorus by heating the latter in absence of air. The
    temperature 240-250° C. is the most suitable; at higher temperatures
    the reverse change sets in, red phosphorus being converted into
    yellow phosphorus.

“Is it philosophical to point to the fact that two such transmutable
elements yield but a single line of derivatives as proof that they are
one element? Is not this rather proof of the readiness, indeed
irresistibleness, of their transmutation? Does not this simply mean that
the derivativeless element, whenever it enters into combination,
inevitably transmutes into its mate which has derivatives?”[128]

    [128] Professor HENRY M. HOWE, LL.D.: “Allotropy or Transmutation.”
    (See _The Chemical News_, vol. cii. pp. 153 and 154, September 23,

According to the atomic theory the differences between what are termed
“allotropic modifications” are generally ascribed to differences in the
number and arrangement of the atoms constituting the molecules of such
“modifications,” and not to any differences in the atoms themselves. But
we cannot argue that two such “allotropic modifications” or elements
which are transmutable into one another are one and the same element,
because they possess the same atomic weight, and different elements are
distinguished by different atomic weights; for the reason that, in the
determination of atomic weights, derivatives of such bodies are
employed; hence, the value obtained is the atomic weight of the element
which forms derivatives, from which that of its derivativeless mate may
differ considerably for all we know to the contrary, if we do, indeed,
regard the atomic weights of the elements as having any meaning beyond
expressing the inertia-ratios in which they combine one with another.

If we wish to distinguish between two such “allotropic modifications”
apart from any theoretical views concerning the nature and constitution
of matter, we can say that such “modifications” are different because
equal weights of them contain, or are equivalent to, different
quantities of energy,[129] since the change of one “form” to another
takes place only with the evolution or absorption (as the case may be)
of heat.[130] But, according to modern views regarding the nature of
matter, this is the sole fundamental difference between two different
elements--such are different because equal weights of them contain or
are equivalent to different quantities of energy. The so-called
“allotropic modifications of an element,” therefore, are just as much
different elements as any other different elements, and the change from
one “modification” to another is a true transmutation of the elements;
the only distinction being that what are called “allotropic
modifications of the same element” differ only slightly in respect of
the energy they contain, and hence are comparatively easy to convert one
into the other, whereas different elements (so called) differ very
greatly from one another in this respect, whence it is to be concluded
that the transmutation of one such element into another will only be
attained by the utilisation of energy in a very highly concentrated
form, such as is evolved simultaneously with the spontaneous
decomposition of the radium emanation.

    [129] For a defence of the view that chemical substances may be
    regarded as energy-complexes, and that this view is equally as valid
    as the older notion of a chemical substance as an inertia-complex,
    _i.e._, as something made up entirely of different units or atoms
    each characterised by the possession of a definite and constant
    weight at a fixed point on the earth’s surface, see an article by
    the present writer, entitled “The Claims of Thermochemistry,”
    _Knowledge and Scientific News_, vol. vii. (New Series), pp. 227 _et
    seq._ (July, 1910).

    [130] In some cases the heat change accompanying the transformation
    of an element into an “allotropic modification” can be measured
    directly. More frequently, however, it is calculated as the
    difference between the quantities of heat obtained when the two
    “forms” are converted into one and the same compound.


§ =103.= We have shown that modern science indicates the essential truth
of alchemistic doctrine, and our task is ended. Writing in 1904, Sir
William Ramsay said: “If these hypotheses [concerning the possibility of
causing the atoms of ordinary elements to absorb energy] are just, then
the transmutations of the elements no longer appears an idle dream. The
philosopher’s stone will have been discovered, and it is not beyond the
bounds of possibility that it may lead to that other goal of the
philosophers of the dark ages--the _elixir vitæ_. For the action of
living cells is also dependent on the nature and direction of the energy
which they contain; and who can say that it will be impossible to
control their action, when the means of imparting and controlling energy
shall have been investigated?”[131] Whatever may be the final verdict
concerning his own experiments, those of Sir Ernest Rutherford, referred
to in the Preface to the present edition, demonstrate the fact of
transmutation; and it is worth noticing how many of the alchemists’
obscure descriptions of their Magistery well apply to that marvellous
something which we call Energy, the true “First Matter” of the Universe.
And of the other problem, the _Elixir Vitæ_, who knows?

    [131] Sir WILLIAM RAMSAY: “Radium and its Products,” _Harper’s
    Magazine_ (December 1904), vol. xlix. (European Edition), p. 57.


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    Transcriber’s Notes:

    The text of the original work has been retained, including
    inconsistencies in spelling, hyphenation, punctuation, etc., except
    as mentioned below.

    Page 82, footnote [85]: the original work had a letter missing; “or”
    seems to fit best (or van Helmont’s Workes).

    Page 84, Memnonite: possibly error for Mennonite.

    Page 93, fulfull: possibly error for fulfill.

    Changes made to the text:

    Footnotes and illustrations have been moved outside text paragraphs.

    Some minor obvious typographical and punctuation errors have been
    corrected silently.

    Page xvii: 142 changed to 140 (Table of Contents)

    Page 10: quesable changed to questionable

    Page 41: Trismegistus changed to Trismegistos as elsewhere

    Page 66: Gentlemen changed to Gentleman

    Page 120, footnote [104]: Séances l’Académie changed to Séances de

    Page 140, footnote [130]: modication changed to modification.

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