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Full text of "Alchemy: ancient and modern, being a brief account of the alchemistic doctrines, and their relations, to mysticism on the one hand, and to recent discoveries in physical science on the other hand; together with some particulars regarding the lives and teachings of the most noted alchemists."

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DAVID McKAY, Publisher, 



Printed in Engl 


The number of books in the English language dealing 
with the interesting subject of Alchemy is not suffi- 
ciently 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 pro- 
found 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 transi- 
tory, 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 demon- 
strate the validity of their theory by means of experi- 
ment ; 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 we were 
asked to contrast Alchemy with the chemical and 
physical science of the nineteenth century we 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 in- 
sight ; 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 (we 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 we 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 follow- 
ing 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 portrait- 
engravings and illustrations from old works in the 


British Museum Collections, and to G. H. Gabb, 
Esq., F.C.S., for permission to photograph portrait- 
engravings 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 

P^'"^^' ^" H. S. R. 

The Polytechnic, London, W. 
October^ 1910. 


Chapter I. The Meaning of Alchemy 

§1. The Aim of Alchemy 

§ 2, The Transcendental Theory of Alchemy 

§ 3. Failure of the Transcendental Theory 

§ 4. The Qualifications of the Adept 

§ 5. Alchemistic Language 

§ 6. Alchemists of a Mystical Type 

§ 7. The Meaning of Alchemy 

§ 8. Opinions of other Writers 

§ 9. The Basic Idea of Alchemy . 

§ ID. The Law of Analogy 

§ II. The Dual Nature of Alchemy 

§ 12. ♦* Body, Soul and Spirit " . 

§ 13. Alchemy, Mysticism and Modern Science 















Chapter II. The Theory of Physical Alchemy 

§ 14. Supposed Proofs of Transmutation . 

§ 15. The Alchemistic Elements . 

§ 16. Aristotle's Views regarding the Elements 

§ 17. The Sulphur-Mercury Theory 

§ 18. The Sulphur- Mercury-Salt Theory . 

§ 19. Alchemistic Elements and Principles 

§ 20. - The Growth of the Metals . 

§ 21. Alchemy and Astrology 

§ 22. Alchemistic View of the Nature of Gold 

§ 23. The Philosopher's Stone 

§ 24. The Nature of the Philosopher's Stone 

§ 25. The Theory of Development 

§ 26. The Powers of the Philosopher's Stone 

§ 27. The Elixir of Life . 

§ 28. The Practical Methods of the Alchemists 











Chapter III. The Alchemists (A. Before Paracelsus) 

§ 29. Hermes Trismegistos 

§ 30. The Smaragdine Table 

§31. Zosimus of Panopolis 

§ 32. Geber 

§ 33. Other Arabian Alchemists 

§ 34. Albertus Magnus 

§ 35. Thomas Aquinas 

§ 36. Roger Bacon . 

§ 37. Arnold de Villanova . 

§ 38. Raymond Lully 

§ 39. Peter Bonus . 

§ 40. Nicolas Flamel 

§ 41. ** Basil Valentine " and the Triumphal Chariot of Antimony 

§42. Isaac of Holland 

§ 43. Bernard Trevisan 

§ 44. Sir George Ripley 

§ 45. Thomas Norton 

Chapter IV. The Alchemists (B. Paracelsus and after) 

§ 46. Paracelsus .... 

§ 47. Views of Paracelsus . 

§ 48. latro-chemistry 

§ 49. The Rosicrucian Society 

§ 50. Thomas Charnock 

§ 51. Andreas Libavius 

§ 52. Edward Kelley and John Dee 

§ 53. Henry Khunrath 

§ 54. Alexander Sethon and Michael Sendivogius 

§ 55. Michael Maier 

§ 56. Jacob Boehme 

§ 57. J. B. van Helmont and F. M. van Helmont 

§ 58. Johann Rudolf Glauber 

§ 59. Thomas Vaughan ('* Eugenius Philalethes ") 

§ 60. *' Eirengeus Philalethes " and George Stark ey 

Chapter V. The Outcome of Alchemy 

§ 61. Did the Alchemists achieve the Magnum Opus ? 

§ 62. The Testimony of van Helmont 

§ 63. The Testimony of Helvetius 

§ 64. Helvetius obtains the Philosopher's Stone 

§ 65. Helvetius performs a Transmutation . 



§ 66. Helvetius's Gold Assayed 

§ 67. Helvetius's Gold Further Tested 

§ 68. The Genesis of Chemistry . 

§ 69. The Degeneracy of Alchemy 

§ 70. " Count Cagliostro " 

Chapter VI. The Age of Modern Chemistry 

§ 71. The Birth of Modern Chemistry 

§ 72. The Phlogiston Theory 

§ 73. Boyle and the Definition of an Element 

§ 74. The Stoichiometric Laws 

§ 75. Dalton's Atomic Theory 

§ 76. The Determination of the Atomic Weights of the Elements 

§ 77. Prout's Hypothesis . 

§ 78. The •' Periodic Law " 

§ 79. The Corpuscular Theory of Matter . 

§ 80, Proof that the Electrons are not Matter 

§ 81. The Electronic Theory of Matter . 

§ 82. The Etheric Theory of Matter 

§ 83. Further Evidence of the Complexity of the Atoms 

§ 84. Views of Wald and Ostwald . 

Chapter VI L Modern Alchemy 

§85. "Modem Alchemy'* 

§ 86. X-Rays and Becquerel Rays . 

§ 87. The Discovery of Radium 

§ 88. Chemical Properties of Radium 

§ 89. The Radioactivity of Radium 

§ 90. The Disintegration of the Radium Atom 

§91. *• Induced Radioactivity " . 

§ 92. Properties of Uranium and Thorium 

§ 93. The Radium Emanation 

§ 94. The Production of Helium from Emanation 

§ 95. Nature of this Change 

§ 96. Is this Change a true Transmutation ? 

§ 97. The Production of Neon from Emanation 

§ 98. Ramsay's Experiments on Copper . 

§ 99. Further Experiments on Radium and Copper 

§ loa Ramsay's Experiments on Thorium and allied Metals 

§ lOi. The Possibility of Making Gold 

§ 102. The Significance of " Allotropy " . 

§ 103. Conclusion .... 
















Plate i. Portrait of Paracelsus ..... Frontispiece 


Plate 2. Symbolical Illustration representing the Trinity of Body, 

Soul and Spirit ...... 15 

Plate 3. Symbolical Illustrations representing — 

(a) The Fertility of the Earth . | 

(b) The Amalgamation of Mercury and Gold ) 

Plate 4. S5niibolical Illustrations representing — 

(a) The Coction of Gold- Amalgam in a Closed Vessel 

(b) The Transmutation of the Metals 

Plate 9. Portraits of— 

(a) Edward Kelley I 

(b) John Dee > 



Plate 5. Alchemistic Apparatus — 

(a) (b) Two forms of apparatus for sublimation . . 37 

Plate 6. Alchemistic Apparatus — 

(a) Athanors ) ^ 

(b) a Pelican^ ^ 

Plate 7. Portrait of Albertus Magnus ..... 44 

Plate 8. Portraits of— 

(a) Thomas Aquinas) 

(B) Nicolas Flamel > ^^ 


Plate 10. Portrait of Michael Maier ..... 72 
Plate II. 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 ..... loo 

Table showing the Periodic Classification of the Chemical 

Elements ...... Pages 106, 107 




§ 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 super- 
ficial 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 stand- 
point, was the attempt to demonstrate experimentally 
on the material plane the validity of a certain philo- 
sophical 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 


2 ALCHEMY [§ 2 

for its scientific teaching." ^ 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 

§ 2. By some mystics, however, the opinion has 
been expressed that Alchemy was not a physical art 
The Tran- ^^ science at all, that in no sense was its 
scendental object the manufacture of material gold. 
Theory ^nd that its processes were not carried 
c emy. ^^^ ^^ ^j^^ 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 employ- 
ment of a special language ; and they hold that the 
writings of the alchemists must not be understood 
literally as dealing with chemical operations, with fur- 
naces, 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 trans- 

* " EiRENiEUS 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). 


mutation 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 in- 
terpreted them in a literal sense. 

§ 3. This theory, however, has been effectively 
disposed of by Mr. Arthur Edward Waite, who 
Failure of po^J^^s to the lives of the alchemists them- 
the Tran- selves in refutation of it. For their lives 
scendental 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 physi- 
cians," 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. "2 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 

"" Paracelsus : " Concerning the Nature of Things " (see The 
Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus^ edited by A. E. 
Waite, 1894, vol. i. p. 167). 

4 ALCHEMY [§ 4 


to the direct labours of the alchemists themselves, and 

not to any who misread their writings. 

§ 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 recog^nised ; but, as a general rule, 

Qualifications , , , 111 1 • 

of the Adept, those who have approached the subject 

from the scientific point of view have con- 
sidered this mystical element as of little or no import- 
ance. 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." 3 And " Basil Valen- 
tine " : '' 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 am- 
bition, 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 v/ith a conscience weeded of all tares, and 
be changed into a pure temple of God cleansed of all 
that defiles."4 

§ 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 
Langwe^ any alchemistic book, the language of 
Alchemy is very highly mystical, and 
there is much that is perfectly unintelligible in a 
physical sevii>e^ Indeed, the alchemists habitually 
apologise,^f6r their vagueness on the plea that such 
mighty s^i^v:s may not be made more fully manifest. 
It is true, oi' course, that in the days of Alchemy s 
degeneracy a good deal of pseudo-mystical nonsense 
was written by the many impostors then abound- 
ing, but the mystical style of language is by no means 
confined to the later alchemistic writings. It is also 

3 T/ie Sophie Hydrolith ; or. Water Stone of the Wise (see The 
Hermetic Museuin^ so\. i. p. 74). 

4 The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony (Mr. A. E. Waite's transla- 
tion, p. 13). See § 41. 

6 ALCHEMY [§ 5 

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 coihtradictions, 
absurdities, and difficulties seem to dissofeVe wherever 
it is applied." 5 

The alchemists' love of symbolism is also con- 
spicuously 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 
5 Arthur Edward Waite : TJie Occult Sciences (1891), p. 91. 


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 


§ 6. We must also notice that, although there 

cannot be the slightest doubt that the great majority 

of alchemists were engaged in problems 

Alchemists of ^j^j experiments of a physical nature, yet 
a Mystical , ^ . . , 1 1 • 1 • 1 

Type. there were a few men mcluded witnm 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 


§ 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 uni- 

8 ALCHEMY [§ 8 

fying tendency has set in) ; but it was otherwise with 
the alchemists, their religion and their science were 
closely united. We have said that 
of\lchemy^ ** Alchemy was the attempt to demon- 
strate 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 know- 
ledge 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 ; '* ^ 
that is to say. Alchemy and the mystical regeneration 
of man (in this writer's opinion) are analogous pro- 
cesses on different planes of being, because they are 
founded on the same first principles. 

§ 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 
^ F. B. : Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers (1815), Preface, p. 3. 


Alchemists ' [two books putting forward the transcen- 
dental theory] had considered the lives of the sym- 
bolists, as well as the nature of the 
otiiw^ Wri Jrs. 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 inten- 
sified by a consideration of the great alchemical 
theorem, which, par excellence, is one of universal 
development, which acknowledges that every sub- 
stance contains undeveloped resources and poten- 
tialities, 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 evolu- 
tion of his nature were accomplished along the lines of 
their theory."? Mr. M. M. Pattison Muir, M.A., 

7 Arthur Edward Waite ; Lives of Alchemy stical Philosophers 
(i888), 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 4). 

10 ALCHEMY [§ 9 

says :**... alchemy aimed at giving experimental 
proof of a certain theory of the whole system of 
nature, including humanity. The practical culmina- 
tion 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 intel- 
lectual capacities, and their spiritual yearnings. The 
alchemists of the nobler sort always made the first of 
these objects subsidiary to the other two. . . ." ^ 

§ 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 ques- 

able origin, tersely expresses the basic 

^of -^hemy^* ^^^^ ^^ Alchemy. The alchemists postu- 
lated 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 

2 M. M. Pattison Muir, M.A. : The Story oj Alchemy and the 
Beginnings of Chemistry (1902), pp. 105 and 106. 


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 scorn- 
ful, lest the mysteries of heaven should be laid bare to 
the vulgar gaze." 9 

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 sym- 
bolical of Christ Jesus, and in this sense we can under- 
stand the otherwise incredible powers attributed to it. 

9 Michael Sendivogius : The New Chemical Lights Ft. II. ^ Con- 
cerning Sulphm {The Hermetic Museum^ vol. ii. p. 138). 

12 ALCHEMY [§ 10 

§ 10. With the theories of physical Alchemy we 

shall deal at length in the following chapter, but 

enough has been said to indicate the 
The Law of i • • t i 

Analogy. analogy existing, according to the 

alchemistic view, between the problem 
of the perfection of the metals, i.e.y the transmu- 
tation 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 Sophie 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." ^° 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 chemi- 
cal 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." " 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 Christ.'* ^2 

§ 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 Dual ^^ attempt to transmute the ** base " 

Nature of 1 • i ., 1 1 „ 

Alchemy. nietals mto 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 

^° The Sophie Hydrolith ; or, Water Stone of the Wise (see The 
Hermetic Museum, vol. i. p. 88). 

" Ibid, p. 114. 

" Peter Bonus: The New Pearl of Great Price (Mr. A. E. 
Waite's translation, p. 275). 

14 ALCHEMY [§ 12 

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 con- 
cerned 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 Sophie Hydrolith and elsewhere, 
and the general religious tone of the alchemistic 

§ 12. In accordance with our primary object as 
stated in the preface, we shall confine our attention 

mainly to the physical aspect of Alchemy ; 
andSpiriV' ^^^ ^^ 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 

:.ATE 2. 


Representing the 
Trinity of Body, Soul and Spirit. 

[To face page 15 


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 in- 
ward individual spirit '3 ; and " spirit " is the universal 
Soul in all men. And likewise, according to the 
alchemists, in the metals, there is the '* body '* or out- 
ward form and properties, " metalline soul " or spirit, ^4 
and finally, the all-pervading essence of all metals. As 
writes Nicholas Barnaud, in his exceedingly curious 
tract entitled The Book of Lamb spring : " 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 elu- 
cidation thereof, '* The Sea is the Body, the two 
Fishes are Soul and Spirit." ^5 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. 

§ 13. We notice the great difference between the 

^3 Which, in virtue of man's self-consciousness, is, by the grace of 
God, immortal. 

*4 See the work Oj Natural and Supernatural Things^ attributed 
to " Basil Valentine," for a description of the "spirits " of the metals 
in particular. 

'5 Nicholas Barnaud Dselphinas : The Book of Lambspring 
(see the Hermetic Museum^ vol. i. p. 277). This work contains 
many other fantastic alchemistic symbolical pictures, probably the 
most curious series in all alchemistic literature 

16 ALCHEMY [§ 13 

alchemistic theory and the views regarding the con- 
stitution of matter which have dominated Chemistry 
j^ , since the time of Dalton. But at the 

Mysticism present time Dalton's theory of the 
and Modern chemical elements is undergoing a pro- 
cience. found modification. We do not imply 
that Modern Science is going back to any such fan- 
tastic 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 Mys- 
ticism 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. 



§ 14. It must be borne in mind when reviewing the 
theories of the alchemists, that there were a number 
SuDDosedi ^^ phenomena known at the time, the 
Proofs of superficial examination of vfhxph would 
Trans- naturally engender 9 belief that the 
transmutation of the metals was a com- 
mon 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, ^ 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 trans- 
muting 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 

^ Cf. TAe Golden Tract concerning the Stone of the Philosophers 
(The Hermetic Museum^ vol. i. p. 25). 

3 " 

18 ALCHEMY [§ 15 

converted into another. 2 On account of these and 
like phenomena the alcher.ists regarded the trans- 
mutation of the metals as an experimentally proved 
fact. Even if they are to be blamed for their super- 
ficial observation of such phenomena, yet, never- 
theless, 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 experi- 
mental science. 

§ 15. The alchemists regarded the metals as com- 
posite, and granting this, then the possibility of trans- 
mutation is only a logical conclusion. In 

The order to understand the theory of the 

Aicnemistic 1 1 1 i 1 .1 

Elements. eieinents held by them we must rid our- 
selves 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 a priori appears to be 
not unlikely ; but it is now known that, although there 
are relations existing between the properties of bodies 

* Lavoisier (eighteenth century) proved this apparent transmu- 
tation to be due to the action of the water on the glass vessel 
containing it. 


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 

§ 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 

Views improbable that they derived it from 

regarding the some still older source. It was taught 

emen s. ^^ 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). 

20 ALCHEMY [§ 17 

§ 17. Coming to the alchemists, we find the view 
that the metals are all composed of two elementary- 
principles — sulphur and mercury — in 

The Sulphur- different proportions and dee^rees of 
Mercury . n • i • n , 

Theory. 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 com- 
plicated 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." 3 He considered an excess of sulphur to 
be a cause of imperfection in the metals, and he writes 

3 Of the Sum of Perfection (see The Works of Geber^ translated 
by Richard Russel, 1678, pp. 69 and 70). 


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.'* 4 He assumed, further, 
that the metals contained an incombustible as well 
as a combustible sulphur, the latter sulphur being 
apparently regarded as an impurity. 5 A later 
alchemist says that sulphur is ** most easily recog- 
nised by the vital spirit in animals, the colour in 
metals, the odour in plants." ^ 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." 7 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 

4 Of the Sum of Perfection (see The Works of Geber, p. 156). 

5 See The Works of Geber ^ p. 160. This view was also held by 
other alchemists. 

^ The New Chemical Lights Part II., Concerning Sulphur (see The 
Hermetic Museum^ vol. ii. p. 151). 

7 See Th£ Golden Tract concerning the Stone of the Philosophers 
{The Hermetic Museum^ vol. i. p. 17). 

22 ALCHEMY [§ 18 

purificatory processes, whereby the impure sulphur 
supposed to be present in this sort of mercury might 
be purged away. 

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. 

§ 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 Sulphur- ^^ ^^se of philosophical sulphur and 
Mercury-Salt 1 1 • 

Theory 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 Super- 
natural 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 cham- 
pioned 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 

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 principleof 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 

§ 19. The alchemists combined the above theories 

with Aristotle's theory of the elements. The latter, 

namely, earth, air, fire and water, were 

Alchemistic resfarded as more interior, more primary. 
Elements and ^^ . . . 1 , 

Principles. ^^^^ the prmciples, whose source was 

said to be these same elements. As 

writes Sendivogius in Part II. of T^e 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, 

24 ALCHEMY [§ 19 

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 astray." ^ 

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 ele- 
mental 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." 9 It 
is hardly necessary to point out how nearly this 
approaches modern views regarding the Ether of 

2 The New Chemical Light, Part II., Concerning Sulphur (see The 
Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. pp. 142-143). 

9 Alexander von Suchten : Man, the best and most perfect of 
God's creatures. A more complete Exposition of this Medical Founda- 
tion for the less Experienced Student. (See Benedictus Figulus : 
A Golden and Blessed Casket of Nature's Marvels, translated by 
A. E. Waite, 1893, PP- 7^ ^"^ 72*) 


§ 20. The alchemists regarded the metals as 
growing in the womb of the earth, and a know- 
ledge of this growth as being of very 

^^'^e^Meufs °^ ^""^^^ 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." ^° 

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 Tke 
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 

'° Thomas Norton : Ordinall of Alchemy (see Theatrum Chemi- 
cum Britannicuniy edited by Elias Ashmole, 1652, p. 18). 

26 ALCHEMY [§21 

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 quickeniixg 
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 nutri- 
ment 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 above. 

" 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 nourish- 
ment to anything. For its sulphur or richness would 
lack the quickening spirit without which there can be 
neither life nor growth." ^^ 

§ 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 

Astrolo^^ 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 : — 

" " Basil Valentine " : The Twelve Keys (see The Hermetic 
Museum, vol i. pp. 333-334)- 



Representing the 
Fertility of tlie Earth. 


Representintj the 
Amaigarnation of Gold with Mercury. 

(See page 33-) 

Til }tu^ fagjt 36] 





Planets, &c." 






















Moreover, it was thought by some alchemists that a 
due observance of astrological conditions was neces- 
sary for successfully carrying out important alchemistic 

§ 22. The alchemists regarded gold as the most 
perfect metal, silver being considered more perfect 

Al h * f ^^^^ ^^^ ^^^^' ^^^ reason of this view 

View of the is not difficult to understand : gold is the 

Nature of 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,£:, aqua fortis or 

nitric acid) and also by sulphur. Through all the 

metals, from the one seed, Nature, according to the 

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

28 ALCHEMY [§ 22 

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 
** Eirenaeus 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." '3 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." H 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), 

^3 " EiRENiEUS Philalethes " : The Metamorphosis of Metals 
(see The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. p. 239). 

"* The Golden Tract Concerning the Stone of the Philosophers 
(see The Hermetic Museum, vol. i. p. 19). 


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 underly- 
ing it. 

§ 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 im- 

The perfect metals were to be perfected or 

Philosophers * , , , i. . r , . i- • »» 

Stone. cured by the application of medicines. 

Three forms of medicines were dis- 
tinguished ; 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 Prepara- 
tion, which, when it comes to Bodies, with its pro- 
jection, takes away all Corruption, and perfects them 
with the Difference of all Compleatment. But this is 
one only." ^5 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 

'5 Of the Sum of Perfection (see The Works of Geber, translated 
by Richard Russel, 1678, p. 192). 

30 ALCHEMY [§ 24 

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. 

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 con- 
taining 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. 

§ 24. The mystical as distinguished from the 

pseudo-practical descriptions of the Stone and its 

preparation are by far the more in- 

of the teresting of the two. Paracelsus, in his 
Philosopher's work on The Tincture of the PhilosopherSy 

Stone. ^^jjg ^g ^j^^^ ^Ij ^^^ jg 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. '* Eirenseus 
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 per- 
fection ... it heals all dead and living bodies 
without other medicine, . . . converts all metallic 

32 ALCHEMY [§25 

bodies into gold, and there is nothing like unto it 
under Heaven." '^ 

§ 25. From the ascetic standpoint (and unfor- 
tunately, most mystics have been somewhat overfond 
of ascetic ideas), the development of 
^]^® ^^®°^ the soul is only fully possible with the 

of Develop- -r - r i i i 1 11 

ment. mortihcation 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 in- 
dividual 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 pro- 
perties 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." ^7 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." 

'^ See Benedictus Figulus : A Golden and Blessed Casket of 
Nature^ s Marvels (translated by A. E. Waite, 1893, pp. 36, 37, 
and 41). 

^^ J. F. Helvetius : The Golden Calf^ ch. iv. (see The Hermetic 
Museum, vol. ii. p. 298). 



Representing the 
Coction of Gold Amalgam in a Closed Vessel. 


Representing the 
Transmutation of the Metals. 

[To face page 


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 pro- 
cesses 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 ; v* 
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 <4 
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 Ni 
picture (plate 4, fig. A), we see the son being pre- V 
vented 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 


34 ALCHEMY [§ 26 

proceeds. Ultimately the father is restored to life, 
the symbol of resurrection being (as might be ex- 
pected) 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 

§ 26. The alchemists believed that a most minute 
proportion of the Stone projected upon considerable 

The Powers ^^^.ntities of heated mercury, molten 
of the lead, or other '' base " metal, would 

Philosopher's 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 (under- 
stood 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 d 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 con- 
verted 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 

§ 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, 
of Life could be applied, so it was thought, 

under certain conditions to the 
alchemist himself, with an entirely analogous result, 
i,e.y 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 Philo- 
sophers' Stone," says Paracelsus, "purges the whole 
body of man, and cleanses it from all impurities by 
the introduction of new and more youthful forces 
wh ch it joins to the nature of man." ^^ And in 
an )ther work expressive of the opinions of the 
sarrie 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 

^^ Theophrastus Paracelsus : The Fifth Book of the Archi- 
doxies (see The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus^ 
translated by A. E. Waite, 1894, vol. ii. p. 39). 

36 ALCHEMY [§ 28 

life . . . " ^9 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 VitcB, 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. 

§ 28. We will conclude this chapter with some 

few remarks regarding the practical methods of 

The Practical ^^ alchemists. In their experiments, 

Methods of the alchemists worked with very large 

*^® quantities of material compared with what 

Alchemists. . i i • i • i i i 

IS employed m 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 mate- 
rial over and over again ; which demonstrated their 
unwearied patience, even if it effected little towards 
the attainment of their end. They paid much atten- 
tion to any changes of colour they observed in their 
experiments, and many descriptions of supposed 
methods to achieve the magnum opus contain :ie- 
tailed directions as to the various changes of co^)ur 
which must be obtained in the material operated u -^on 
if a successful issue to the experiment is desirea.^o 

^9 The Book of the Revelation of Hermes, interpreted by Theo- 
phrastus 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.) 

2° As writes Espagnet in his Hermetic Arcanum, canons 64 and 65 : 
" The Means or demonstrative signs are Colours, successively and 
orderly aifecting the matter and its affections and demonstrative 

ITo face pafie 37 


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). 

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 
ealled 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 perfec- 
tion of liquefaction, and confusion of the elements. Then the grain 
putrefies and is corrupted, that it may be the more apt for genera- 
tion . 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 
kair, 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 
laileth 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. 

38 ALCHEMY [§ 28 

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 appa- 
ratus for subliming difficultly volatile substances. 
Plate 5, fig. B, shows another apparatus for sublima- 
tion, consisting of a sort of oven, and four 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 em- 
ployed 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 
an athanor in ashes, 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 thereby. 



T.i fr,r,> h,l((/> iXl 


(a. before Paracelsus) 

§ 29. Having now considered the chief points in 

the theory of Physical Alchemy, we must turn our 

attention to the lives and individual 

ermes teaching's of the alchemists themselves. 
Tnsmegistos. ^ , . i . r i • i 

The first name which is found m the 

history of Alchemy is that of Hermes Trismegistos. 

We have already mentioned the high esteem 

in which the works ascribed to this personage 

' 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, specific- 
ally 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 Alchemy stical Philosophers (1815), 
the works of Mr. A. E. Waite, the Dictionary of National Biography, 
and certain articles in the Encyclopdceia Britannica. This must not 
be taken to mean, however, that we have always followed the con- 
clusions reached in these works, for so far as the older of them are 
concerned, recent researches by various authorities — to whom refer- 
ence will be found in the following pages, and to whom, also, we are 
indebted — have shown, in certain cases, that such are not tenable. 

40 ALCHEMY [§ 30 

I were held by the alchemists (§ 6). He has been 
I regarded as the father of Alchemy ; his name has 
I supplied a synonym for the Art — the Hermetic Art 
j — 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,'^ a mystical-religious treatise, is 
the most important. The Golden Tractate, also attri- 
buted to Hermes, which is an exceedingly obscure 
alchemistic work, is now regarded as having been 
written at a comparatively late date. 

§ 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 

Smaragdine , . , i i i i 

Table tomb contamed an emerald table — 

" The Smaragdine Table " — on which 

were inscribed the following thirteen sentences in 

Phoenician characters : — 

I. I speak not fictitious things, but what is true 

and most certain. 

2 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. 


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 medi- 
ation 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. 

1 1 . Thence proceed wonderful adaptations which 
are produced in this way. 

12. Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistus, 
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 completed. 

These sentences clearly teach the doctrine of the 
alchemistic essence or ''One Thing," which is every- 
where present, penetrating even solids (this we should 

42 ALCHEMY [§ 31 

note is true of the ether of space), and out of which 
all things of the physical world are made by adapta- 
tion or modification. The terms Sun and Moon in 
the above passage probably stand for Spirit and 
Matter respectively, not gold and silver. 

§ 31. One of the earliest of the alchemists of whom 

record remains was Zosimus of Panopolis, who 

flourished in the fifth century, and was 

PanoDolis 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." 3 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. 

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 deg^ree. 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 

3 F. P. Venable, Ph.D. : A Short History of Chemistry (1896), 
P- 13- 


with which the chemical knowledge of the time was 
bound up." 4 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 In- 
vestigatione Perfectionis Metallorum, De Inventione 
Veritatis and De Fornacibus Construendisy 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. 

♦ Ernst von Meyer: A History of Chemistry (translated by 
Dr. McGowan, 1906), p. 31. 

44 ALCHEMY [§ 33 

§ 33. Among other Arabian alchemists the most 
celebrated were Avicenna and Rhasis, who are sup- 
posed to have lived some time after 
^Akh^te*" 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. 

§ 34. Albertus Magnus, Albert Groot or Albert 
von Bollstadt (see plate 7), was born at Lauingen, 
probably in 1193. ^^ ^^^ educated at 
(iiQoicJ^\ 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, more- 
over, a man of noble character. The authenticity of the 
alchemistic works attributed to him has been questioned. 
§ 35. The celebrated Dominican, Thomas Aquinas 
(see plate 8), was probably a pupil of 
Thomas Albertus Magnus, from whom it is thought 
(122&-1274). ^^ imbibed alchemistic learning. It is 
very probable, however, that the alchem- 
istic works attributed to him are spurious. The 


[by de Bry] 


face -taHe 44] 


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. 5 

§ 36. Roger Bacon, the most illustrious of the medi- 
aeval alchemists, was born near Ilchester in Somer- 
set, probably in 12 14. His erudition, 
^1214-12941^^ considering the general state of ignorance 
prevailing at this time, was most remark- 
able. 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."^ 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. 7 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 

5 Thomas Thomson : The History of Chemistry, vol. i. (1830), 

P- 33. 

^ Ernst von Meyer : A History of Chemistry (translated by 
Dr. McGowan, 1906), p. 35. 

7 See Roger Bacon's Discovery of Miracles, chaps, vi. and xi. 

46 ALCHEMY [§ 36 

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. '' Alchimyy' 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 com- 
pound 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." ^ He 
also believed in Astrology ; but, nevertheless, he was 
entirely opposed to many of the magical and super- 
stitious notions held at the time, and his tract, De 
Secretis Operibus Artis et NaturcE, et de Nullitate 
MagicB, 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 accord- 
ing to the puritie and impuritie of the two aforesaide 
principles, Argent-vive and Sulphur, pure, and impure 
mettals are ingendred." 9 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 

^ Roger Bacon : The Mirror of Alchimy (1597), p. i- 
9 Ibid. p. 2. 


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." i° 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." ^^ He died about 1294. 

§ 37. The date and birthplace of Arnold de 

Villanova, or Villeneuve, are both uncertain. He 

studied medicine at Paris, and in the latter 

V*ll P^^^ ^^ ^^^ thirteenth century practised 

(12 — ?-i3io?). pi'ofessionally in Barcelona. To avoid 
persecution at the hands of the Inquisi- 
tion, he was obliged to leave Spain, and ultimately 
found safety with Frederick H. 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 1 3 10-13 1 3. 

§ 38. Raymond LuUy, 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 ma n of pleasure ; in his maturity, 

^° Roger Bacon : T^e Mirror of Alchimy (1597), p. 4. 
" Ibid. p. 9. 

48 ALCHEMY [§ 38 

a mystic and ascetic. His career was of a roving 

and adventurous character. We are told that, in his 

younger days, although married, he be- 

^ifT^^ came violently infatuated with a lady of 
(1235 7-1315). the name of Ambrosia de Castello, who 
vainly tried to dissuade him from his 
profane passion. Her efforts proving futile, she re- 
quested 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 demon- 
strability of Christian doctrine — and unhappily he 
was, at last, stoned to death by the inhabitants of 
Bugiah (in Algeria) in 1315.^2 

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 

" See Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers (1815), pp. 17 et seq. 


the works of pseudo - Geber (§ 32). Of these 
alchemical writings we may here mention the Clavi- 
cula. 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 under- 
standable 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 Philoso- 
pher's Stone is the extraction of the mercury of silver 
or gold. He writes : " Metals cannot be trans- 
muted. ... 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. . . . " ^3 

§ 39. In 1546, a work was published entitled 
Magarita Pretiosa, which claimed to be a '* faith- 
ful abridgement," by "Janus Lacinus 

^?.*fi^^°''''' Therapus, the Calabrian," of a MS. 
(14th Cen- . / « „ • 1 r 

tury). written by Peter Bonus m the four- 
teenth 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 

^3 Raymond Lully : Clavicula^ or, A Little Key (see Aurifontina 
Chymica, 1680, p. 167). 


50 ALCHEMY [§ 39 

of I stria, 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 argu- 
ments in favour of Alchemy and puts forward 
answers in full to the former objections ; further diffi- 
culties, &c., are then dealt with. In all this, compared 
with many other alchemists. Bonus, though somewhat 
prolix, is remarkably lucid. All metals, he argues, fol- 
lowing 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 differ- 
entiated the metallic substance into a great variety of 
species and forms." H 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. 

§ 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. 

Nicolas ii^ tj^g course of time, Flamel became a 
Flamel , , , , 

(1330-1418). ^^^y wealthy man and, at the same time, 

it appears, one who exhibited consider- 
able munificence. This increase in Flamel's wealth 
has been attributed to supposed success in the Her- 
metic 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 mys- 
teries for him. This book revealed the occult secrets 
of Alchemy, and by its means Nicolas was enabled 

'^ Peter Bonus : T/ie New Pearl of Great Price (Mr. A. E. 
Waite's translation, pp. 176-177). 

52 ALCHEMY [§ 41 

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. 

§ 41. Probably the most celebrated of all alchemistic 
books is the work known as Triumph- Wagen des 

Antimonii. A Latin translation with a 
" Basil Valen- ^ l t-i_ j ^r i • • 

tine "and commentary by 1 heodore Kerckrmgius 

*'TheTrium- was published in 1685, and an English 
phal Chariot^ 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 alche- 
mistic work, he says : '* When I had emptied to the 
dregs the cup of human suffering, I was led to con- 
sider 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."i5 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 idle- 
ness, he took up the study of Alchemy, ''the investiga- 
tion of those natural secrets by which God has 

'5 "Basil Valentine": The '' PracHca" (see The Hermetic 
Museum, vol. i. p. 313). 


'o face pa^e 52] 


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. . . ."^^ 
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. 
§ 42. Isaac of Holland and a countryman of the same 
name, probably his son, are said to have been the first 
J . Dutch alchemists. They are supposed 
Holland to have lived during the fifteenth century, 
(15tli Cen- but of their lives nothing is known. 
^"^ Isaac, although not free from supersti- 

tious opinions, appears to have been a practical 

'' Sir H. E. RoscoE, F.R.S., and C Schorlemmer, F.R.S. : 
A Treatise on Chemistry y vol. i. (1905), p. 9. 

54 ALCHEMY [§ 43 

chemist, and his works, which abound in recipes, were 
held in great esteem by Paracelsus and other alche- 
mists. 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 un- 
perfect the Feces or dreggs, or the venemous or com- 
bustible 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 in- 
fluence 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." ^7 He gives direc- 
tions for extracting the Quintessence, for which mar- 
vellous 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. 

§ 43. Bernard Trevisan, a French count of the 
fifteenth century, squandered enormous sums of money 
in the search for the Stone, in which the whole oi 
his life and energies were engaged. He seems to 
have become the dupe of one charlatan after another, 

•' 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. 


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 

Bernard obscure work, he speaks of the Philoso- 
(1406-1490). pher 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-vivey ^^ He appears, however, to have 

added nothing to our knowledge of chemical science. 

§ 44. Sir George Ripley, an eminent alchemistic 

philosopher of the fifteenth century, entered upon 

a monastic life when a youth, becom- 

Sir George jj^g ^^^ ^f ^^ canons regular of 

yi4 7-1490?). 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 
GateSy which was written in 1471. In this curious 
work, we learn that there are twelve processes neces- 
sary for the achievement of the magnum opuSy namely, 
Calcination, Solution, Separation, Conjunction, Putre- 
faction, Congelation, Cibation, Sublimation, Fermen- 

'^ Bernard, Earl of Trevisan : A Treatise of the Philosophers 
StonCy 1683 (see Collectanea Chymica : A Collection of Ten 
Several Treatises in Chemistry ^ 1684, p. 91). 

66 ALCHEMY [§ 4S 

tation, 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 fulfuU: 

In fyer conteinue thy glas styll, 

And Multeply thy Medcyns ay more and more, 
For wyse men done say store ys no sore.^^ '^ 

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

" I made Solucyo7is 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."^° 

Ripley did much to popularise the works of Ray- 
mond 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). 

§ 45. Thomas Norton, the author of the celebrated 
Or dinall of Alchemy, was probably born shortly before 

'^ Sir George Ripley : The Compound of Alchemy (see 
Tlieatrum Chemicum Britannicum, edited by Elias Ashmole, 1652, 
p. 186). 

^ Ibid. p. 189. 


the commencement of the fifteenth century. The 

Ordinall, which is written in verse (and which will 

be found in Ashmole's Theatrum Chemi- 

Thomas ^^^^^ Britannicum), ^i was published 
Norton 15th , , ^\ i > -j .-. 

Century). anonymously, but the authors 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 couplet : — 

"Tomais Norton of Briseto, 
A parfet Master ye male him call trowe." 

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 

^' A prose version will be found in The Hermetic Museum^ 
translated back into English from a Latin translation by Maier. 


THE ALCHEMISTS {continued) 

§ 46. That erratic genius, Paracelsus — or, to give 

him his correct name, PhiHp (?) Aureole (?) Theo- 

phrast Bombast von Hohenheim — 

a493^1^n ^^^^^ 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 physi- 
cian, 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 him- 
self 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 coarse- 
ness 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 state- 
ment 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 1541. 

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 convic- 
tion, 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 

60 ALCHEMY [§ 47 

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." ' It is also a problem of con- 
siderable 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 were. 

§ 47. Paracelsus was the first to recognise the 
desirability of investigating the physical universe 

with a motive other than alchemistic. 
Paracelsus ^^ taught that '* the object of chemistry 

is not to make gold, but to prepare 
medicines," and founded the school of latro-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 dispro- 
portion 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 

^ John Ferguson, M.A. : Article "Paracelsus," Encyclopcedia 
Britannica, 9th edition (1885), vol. xviii. p. 236. 


chemical substances : illness the result of some change 
in this combination, and hence curable only by chemical 
medicines, expresses a certain truth, and is un- 
doubtedly 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 

§ 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 

latro- ^jj^^ 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 

62 ALCHEMY [§ 49 

demonstrate on the physical plane the validity of the 
doctrines of Mysticism. However, during the follow- 
ing 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 atten- 
tion 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 know- 
ledge 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 George Starkey 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 curi- 
osities — that calls for some brief consideration. We 
refer to the ** far-famed " 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 y 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 throuerh the 

Rosicmcian ,. ^ - , r i 

Society. medium oi 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 publica- 
tion 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 Eur ope y 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 contro- 
versy took place ; it was plain to some that the 
Society had deluded them, whilst others hotly main- 
tained 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 

64 ALCHEMY [§ 49 

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 posses- 
sion 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 Andrea, a 
young and benevolent Lutheran divine; but more, how- 
ever, than a mere hoax. As the late Mr. R. A. Vaughan 
wrote : " . . . this Andrea writes the Discovery of the 
Rosicrucian Brotherhood, a jeu-cC esprit with a serious 
purpose, just as an experiment to see whether some- 
thing 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 Andreas 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 con- 
federacy, answering to the serious purpose he had 
embodied in his fiction." ^ His scheme was a 

* Robert Alfred Vaughan, B.A. : Hours with the Mystics 
(yth edition, 1895), vol. ii. bk. 8, chap. ix. p. 134. 


failure, and on seeing its result, Andrea, 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.3 

§ 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 

Thomas possible, in chronoloe^ical order ; whence 
Charnock i ^ i i • i 

ri524r-1581). ^"^ ^''^^ 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 instructed Charnock on his death-bed. 
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 

3 Arthur Edward Waite : The RealHistory of the Rosicrucians^ 



66 ALCHEMY [§ 51 

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 Gentlemen that oughte me great mallice 
Caused me to be prest to goe serve at Calfys : 
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." * 

Thomas Charnock married in 1562 a Miss Agnes 
Norden. He died in 158 1. It is, perhaps, unneces- 
sary to say that his name does not appear in the 
history of Chemistry. 

§ 51. Andreas Libavius was born at Halle in 

Germany in 1540, where he studied medicine and 

practiced for a short time as a physician. 

Andreas ^^ accepted the fundamental iatro- 
Libavms 1 • 1 1 • 1 

(1540-1616.) chemical doctrmes, 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 

^ Thomas Charnock : The Breviary of Naturall Philosophy (see 
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicumy edited by Ashmole, 1652, p. 295.) 


regarded as the first text-book of Chemistry. It 

was held in high esteem for a considerable time, 

being reprinted on several occasions. 

§ 52. Edward Kelley or Kelly (see plate 9) was 

born at Worcester on August i, 1555. His life 

_ is so obscured by various traditions 

Edward , . . .../ . . . 

Kelley ^^^^ ^^ ^^ very dimcult to arrive at the 

(1555-1595) truth concerning it. The latest, and 

^as^^^sT F^b^^^y *^ best, account will be found 
in Miss Charlotte Fell Smith's JoAn 
Dee (1909). Edward Kelley, according to some 
accounts, was brought up as an apothecary. 5 He is 
also said to have entered Oxford University under 
the pseudonym of Talbot.^ 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, 7 

5 See, for example, William Lilly : History of His Life and 
Times (1715, reprinted in 1822, p. 227). 

^ See Anthony A Wood's account of Kelle/s life in Athence 
Oxonienses (3rd edition, edited by Philip Bliss, vol. i. col. 639.) 

^ William Lilly, the astrologer, in his History of His Life and 

68 ALCHEMY [§ 52 

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 pro- 
bably 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 ; ^ 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. 

® The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee (The Camden Society, 
1842), p. 22. 


r" """''""iiJMi 



[|||i|i|iiiwiinW||ffiH|M w.^^S 




ml -^'^ 

Pii'i:! !;{ iiPII 

Jo face i>a&e 68] 


under the date May lo, 1588, we find the following 
recorded: "E.K. did open 'the great secret to me, 
God be thanked ! " 9 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 in- 
formed 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 arrange- 
ment, 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 

It was during his incarceration that he wrote an 
alchemistic work entitled TAe Stone of the Philo- 
sophers, which consists largely of quotations from 
older alchemistic writings. His other works on 
Alchemy were probably written at an earlier period. '° 

9 The Private Diary of Dr. John Dee (The Camden Society, 
1842), p. 27. 

'° An English translation of Kelley's alchemistic works were pub- 
lished under the editorship of Mr. A. E. Waite, in 1893. 

70 ALCHEMY [§ 54 

§ 53. Henry Khunrath was born in Saxony in the 

second half of the sixteenth century. He was a 

follower of Paracelsus, and travelled 

Henry about Germany, practising as a physician. 

(1560-1605). " This German alchemist," says Mr. 

A. E. Waite, "... is claimed as a hiero- 

phant 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> Sapientice ^terncBy &c., as 

"purely mystical and magical." " 

§ 54. The date and birthplace of Alexander 
Sethon, a Scottish alchemist, do not appear to have 
been recorded, but Michael Sendivogius 
s^th^ was probably born in Moravia about 

(7-1604) and i S^^- Sethon, we are told, was in posses- 
Michael sion of the arch-secrets of Alchemy. He 
(l^^'^-^l^) 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 imprison- 
ment obtained permission to visit him. Sendivogius 
offered to effect Sethon's escape in return for assist- 
ance in his alchemistic pursuits, to which arrange- 
ment the Scottish alchemist willingly agreed. After 
some considerable outlay of money in bribery, Sen- 
" A. E. Waite ; Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers {\%ZZ), p. 159. 


divogius'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 oc- 
curred shortly afterwards, he presented him with an 
ounce of the transmutative powder. Sendivogius soon 
used up this powder, we are told, in effecting trans- 
mutations 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 this book, 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 1646.12 

The New Chemical Light was held in great 
esteem by the alchemists. The first part treats at 

" SeeF. B. : Lives of Alchemy stical Philosophers (1815), pp.66-69. 

72 ALCHEMY [§ 55 

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 imagi- 
nary 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 mean- 
time the King or the donkey will die, or I myself." '3 
The second part treats of the Elements and Principles 
(see §§ 17 and 19). 

§ 55. Michael Maier (see plate 10) was born at 
Rendsberg (in Holstein) about 1568. He studied 
medicine assiduously, becoming a most 
Michael successful physician, and he was en- 
(1568-1622). nobled by Rudolf II. Later on, how- 
ever, 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 i^-ms 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 

'3 The New Chemical Light, Part I. (see The Hermetic Museum^ 
vol. ii. p. 125). 

PLATE 10. 



dit;hi^c mihi restant. 
Posse bene in chri^to vivere, posse mori 
Michael iMAi£RV5 come5 imperialis coNv 



[by J. BriuinJ 



Art. He took a prominent part in the famous Rosi- 
crucian 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 some- 
what 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 Serins: or. 
Serious Passe-time, for example, he supposes a Parlia- 
ment 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.'* '4 His Sudt/e 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, 

^4 Michael Maier : Lusus Serius : or Serious Passe-time (1654), 
p. 138. 

74 ALCHEMY [§ 56 

consisting of translations of '* Valentine's " '' Practica " 
and Twelve Keys, Norton's Ordinal and Cremer's 
spurious Testament. 

§ 56. Jacob Boehme, or Behmen (see plate ii), 
was born at Alt Seidenberg, a village near Gorlitz, 
in 1575. His parents being poor, the 
ri575-1624.') education he received was of a very 
rudimentary nature, and when his school- 
ing days were over, Jacob was apprenticed to a 
shoemaker. His religious nature caused him often to 
admonish his fellow-apprentices, which behaviour ulti- 
mately caused him to be dismissed. He travelled 
about as a journeyman shoemaker, returning, however, 
to Gorlitz 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 
1 6 10. It was then that he wrote his first book, the 
Auroray 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 Gorlitz, where he 
expired in a condition of ecstasy. 

PLATE ti. 



Jacob Boehme was an alchemist of a purely tran- 
scendental 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 con- 
scious 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 ; '^ 
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 dis- 
esteemed Stone, of a Gray colour, but therein lyeth 
the highest Tincture."'^ 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.'^ 

§ 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 

*5 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. 

'^' Jacob Boehme : Epistles (translated by J. E., 1649), Ep. iv. 
§ III, p. 65. 

'' The Book of the Prophet Isaiah^ chap, liii., vv. 2 and 3, R.V. 

76 ALCHEMY [§ 57 

afterwards accepting in part the teachings of Para- 
celsus ; and he helped to a large extent in the over- 
throw of the old medical doctrines. His purely 
chemical researches were also of great 

J. B. van value to the science. He was a man 
(1577-1644) of profound knowledge, of a religious 

and F. M. van temperament, and he possessed a marked 
(m&^699 ) li^^"§^ for the mystical. He was inspired 
by the writings of Thomas a 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 occa- 
sion, 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 1644. 

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) '^ 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 

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

PLATE 12. 




(From the Frontispiece to J. B. van Helmonfs Oriatrikcy 


collection of gases, and hence was led in many cases 
to erroneous conclusions. 

Francis Mercurius van Helmont (see plate 12), 
the son of John Baptist, born in 16 18, gained the repu- 
tation 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. 

§ 58. Johann Rudolf Glauber was born at Karl- 
stadt in 1604. Of his life little is known. He appears 
to have travelled about Germany a good 
^^^^^T^ deal, afterwards visiting Amsterdam, 
(1604-1668). 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 crystal- 
lised 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. 

§ 59. Thomas Vaughan, who wrote under the 
name of "Eugenius Philalethes," was born at 
Newton in Brecknockshire in 1622. He was edu- 
cated at Jesus College, Oxford, gradu- 

Vaughan ating as a Bachelor of Arts, and being 

("Eugenius made a fellow of his college. He 

^162^-l^^S''^ appears also to have taken holy orders 

and to have had the living of St. 

Bridget's (Brecknockshire) conferred on him.^^ 

'^ See Anthony a Wood : Athene^ Oxonienses^ edited by Philip 
Bliss, vol. iii. (1817), cols. 722-726. 

78 ALCHEMY [§ 59 

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, inconti- 
nency 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 reofarded 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 illumina- 
tion, "is the Christian Philosophers 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. "20 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. 

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 

'" Thomas Vaughan ("Eugenius Philalethes ") : Anima Magica 
Abscondita (see The Magical Writings of Thomas Vaughan^ edited 
by A. E. Waite, 1888, p. 71). 


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, we may mention Anthropo- 
sophia Tkeomagicay 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. 
§ 60. The use of the pseudonym " Philalethes " has 
not been confined to one alchemist. The cosmo- 
politan adept who wrote under the name 

"Eiren^us ^f « Eiren«us Philalethes," has been 
Philalethes" r j ^i. i. j -^u t-i. 

(1623?-?) confused, on the one hand, with ihomas 

and George Vaughan, on the other hand with George 
Starkey Starkey (?-i665). His real identity re- 
^ '' mains shrouded in impenetrable mys- 
tery. George Starkey, who graduated M.A. at 
Harvard in 1646, probably made the acquaintance 
of the mysterious adept whilst practising medicine in 
the United States of America, and was to some extent 
initiated by him into the secrets of Alchemy. In re- 
turn for this he appears to have stolen his Hermetic 
master's MS., The Marrow of Alchemy, which he 
published in 1654-5. Returning to England, Starkey 
seems to have degenerated into a quack. 21 The works 
of " Eiraenius Philalethes," which are among the most 
lucid of alchemistic writings, became immensely popu- 
lar. His Open Entrance to the Closed Palace of the 
King (the most famous of his works) and his Three 

" See Mr. A. E. Waite's Lives of Alchemy stical Philosophers^ 
article, "Eirenseus Philalethes." 

80 ALCHEMY [§ 60 

Treatises will be found in The Hermetic Museum. 
Some of his views we have already noted (see 
§§ I 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. "22 
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 ex- 
traction is therefore a task which may well tax the 
ingenuity of the most experienced philosopher. . . ."23 
There appears to be somewhat of a similarity between 
this view of the seed of metals and modern ideas 
regarding the electron (see §§80 and 81), which must 
not be passed over without notice. 

" " EiRENvEUS Philalethes " : The Metamorphosis of Metals 
(see The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. p. 236). Compare with van 
Helmont's views, § 57. 

^3 " EiRENyEUS Philalethes " : The Metamorphosis of Metals 
(see The Hermetic Museum, vol. ii. p. 240). 



§ 61. The alchemists were untiring in their search X 

for the Stone of the Philosophers, and we may well 

ask whether they ever succeeded in 

Alchemists effecting a real transmutation. That 

achieve the many apparent transmutations occurred, 

"Magnum ^^ observers beinsf either self-deceived 
Opus"? , r . 1 . . 

by a superficial exammation — certam 

alloys resemble the " noble metals " — or de- 
liberately cheated by impostors, is of course un- 
doubted. 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 (more especially silver) 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 possibly 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 

7 81 

82 ALCHEMY [§ 62 

the days of Alchemy. But if there be one method 

whereby the metals may be fctnsmuted, 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. 

§ 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, 

Thr Testi- testified in more than one place that he 
luony of van 1,1. , r • i ^ 

Helmont. ^^^ nimselt carried out the transmutation 

of mercury into gold. But, as we have 
mentioned above, the composition of the Stone em- 
ployed 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 pro- 
jected 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 trans- 
changed 19186 [19 1 56] Parts of Quick-silver, equal 
to itself, into the best Gold.''^ 

' J. B. VAN Helmont : Zt/a Eternal (see Oriatrike, translated by 
J. C, 1662; or Van Hdmonfs WorkeSy translated by J. C, 1664, 


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 pro- 
jection 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."^ 

§ 63. John Frederick Helvetius (see plate 13), an 

eminent doctor of medicine, and physician to the 

Prince of Orange, published at the Hague 

The Testi- jj^ j^^^ ^^^^ following remarkable account 

Helvetius. ^^ ^ transmutation he claimed to have 
effected. Certain points of resemblance 
between this account and that of van Helmont 
{e.^., 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 

which is merely the former work with a new title-page and pre- 
liminary matter, pp. 751 and 752). 

= J. B. VAN Helmont : I/ie Tree of Life (see Oriatrike or 
Van Helmonfs Workes^ p. 807). 

84 ALCHEMY [§ 63 

mien, clothed In a simple garb like that of a Mem- 
nonlte . . . 

''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 Pyro- 
technic 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 Ellas (for it was he) thus 
addressed me : ' Since you have read so much in the 
works of the Alchemists about this Stone, Its sub- 
stance. Its colour, and Its wonderful effects, may I be 
allowed the question, whether you have not yourself 
prepared it ? ' Gn 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 

PLATE 13. 


Anhaltinv^ Cothonensk Doctor^' 

Pra^cticus M^edLUn^ Haqa, Comttis . &i lo.A'.fSd. 


had held the precious treasure in my hand for a 

quarter of an hour (during which time I Hstened 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 ; . . . 

§ 65. '* When my strange visitor had concluded his 

narrative, I besought him to give me a proof of his 

_ , ^. assertion, by performing^ the transmuta- 

Helvetms . ^ ^ , . 

obtains the tory operation on some metals m my 

Philosopher's presence. He answered evasively, that 
Stone. j^^ 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 some- 
thing 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 

86 ALCHEMY [§ 64 

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, how- 
ever, 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 utter- 
ing 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 ex- 
change 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 appli- 
cation 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 ^old.' . . . 

§ 65. "... With ... a promise to return at nine 

o'clock the next morning, he left me. But at the 

„ , ^. stated hour on the followingf day he did 

Helvetms , i . . i . 

performs a ^^^ make his appearance ; m his stead, 

Transmuta- 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 

88 ALCHEMY [§ 67 

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. 

§ 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 

Gold Assayed. ^^ ^^^^ ^^^ ' ^ ^^^^ 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 after- 
wards we found that this was not the case, but that, 
on the contrary, two scruples of the silver had under- 
gone a change into gold. 

§ 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 
gjlyer 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 

■^fi^®*^^^'^ an increase of a scruple of sfold, but the 
Gold Further . . r & » 

Tested. silver is excellent and extremely flex- 
ible. 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." 3 

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. 

§ 68. But even if the alchemists did not discover 

the Grand Arcanum of Nature, they did discover very 

many scientifically important facts. Even 

of Chemistry ^^ ^^^^ ^^^ ^^^ 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 Out- 
come 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, 

3 J. F. Helvetius : The Golden Calf^ ch. iii. (see The Hermetic 
Museum^ vol. ii. pp. 283 et. seq,). 

90 ALCHEMY [§ 69 

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. 

§ 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 

of Alchemy. ** 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 expecta- 
tions 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 
mentioned Edward Kelley and George Starkey, but 
chief of them all is generally accounted the notorious 
"Count Cagliostro." That Cagliostro is rightfully 
placed in the category of pseudo-alchemfsts 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. 

§ 70. Of the birth and early life of the personage 

calling himself " Count Cagliostro " nothing is known 

with any degree of certainty, even his 

"Count ^j.^g name being: enveloped in mystery. 

Cagliostro" ^ i. - j j u i . -j .-r 

/ ^ jyggv It has, mdeed, been usual to identity 

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,4 who appears to have gone into the matter 
very thoroughly, however, throws very grave doubts 
on the truth of this theory. 

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 Obser- 
vance," a secret society incorporated with Freemasonry, 

^ W. R. H. Trowbridge : Cagliostro : The Splendour and Misery 
of a Master of Magic ( 1 9 1 o). 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, in- 
deed, 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 in the validity of his claims. 

92 ALCHEMY [§ 70 

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 clair- 
voyant 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 dis- 
covered, to hypnotism, to the power of the imagina- 
tion 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 

PLATE 14. 


'^ace page 92J 


propose to enter. At S trasburg " Cagllostro " came into 
contact with the Cardinal de Rohan, and a fast friend- 
ship sprang up between the two, which, in the end, 
proved * ' CagHostro 's " ruin. The * ' Count " next visited 
Bordeaux and Lyons, successfully founding lodges of 
Egyptian Masonry. From the latter town he pro- 
ceeded 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 in- 
famous 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 Par- 
liament, pronounced innocent, and released. Imme- 
diately, however, the king banished him, and he left 
Paris for London, where he seems to have been per- 
sistently 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 Free- 
mason (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. 



§ 71. Chemistry as distinct from Alchemy and 

latro-chemistry commenced with Robert Boyle (see 

plate 15), who first clearly recognised 

The Birth of ^\^g^^ j^-g ^jj^ jg neither the transmutation of 

Modem , , , . - ,. 

Chemistry. ^^^ metals nor the preparation 01 medi- 
cines, but the observation and generalisa- 
tion 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 inter- 
vening 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. 

§ 72. The phlogiston theory was mainly due to 
Georg Ernst Stahl (i 660-1 734). Becher (1635- 
1682) had attempted to revive the once universally 
accepted sulphur- mercury-salt theory of the alchem- 
ists in a somewhat modified form, by the assump- 
tion that all substances consist of three earths — the 

PLATK 15. 

•^y ^f.A'ij^ArnZeruH'nl . 


pa^c 94] 


combustible, mercurial, and vitreous ; and herein is to 
be found the germ of Stahl's phlogistic theory. 
According to Stahl, all combustible bodies 
T^® (including those metals that change on 

Theory!^ 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 (i 743-1 794), 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^ and proved com- 
bustion to be the combination of the substance burnt 

* 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. 

96 ALCHEMY [§ 73 

with a certain constituent of the air, the oxygen. By 
this time Alchemy was to all intents and purposes 
defunct, Boerhave (i 668-1 738) 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. 

§ 73. Robert Boyle (i 626-1 691) had defined an 
element as a substance which could not be decom- 
posed, but which could enter into combi- 

Boyle and the nation with other elements 2:ivinpf com- 

Definition , , , ^ , ^ . . . 

of an Element, po^^^ds capable 01 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. 

74. With the study of the relative weights in 


which substances combine, certain generalisations or 
** natural laws" of supreme importance were dis- 
covered. These stoichiometric laws, as 

^^® . they are called, are as follows : — 
Stoicmometnc .. 1-1 t r r^ -n 

La^s^ I. ** ihe Law of Constant Propor- 

tion " — ne 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 pro- 
portion^ 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 Oxygen.)^ 

As examples of these laws we may take the few 

following simple facts : — 

* In order that these laws may hold good, it is, of course, neces- 
sary that the substances are weighed under precisely similar con- 
ditions. 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." 

98 ALCHEMY [§ U 

1. Pure water is found always to consist of oxygen 
and hydrogen combined in the ratio of i 'ooS 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 I '008 parts by weight of the latter to 16 parts by 
weight of the former, z.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-tri- 
oxide," 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 

3. From the data given in (i) above we can fix the 
combining number of hydrogen as i'oo8, that of 


sulphur as 8*02. Now, compounds are known con- 
taining sulphur and hydrogen, and, in each case, the 
weight of sulphur combined with i*oo8 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, con- 
taining only hydrogen and sulphur (viz., sulphuretted- 
hydrogen or hydrogen sulphide), i*oo8 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 Weights.) 

Berthollet (1748-1822) denied the truth of the law 
of constant proportion, and hence, of course, the other 
stoichiometric laws, and a controversy ensued between 
this chemist and Proust (i 755-1 826), who undertook 
a research to settle the question and in whose favour 
the controversy was ultimately decided. 

§ 75. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, 

John Dalton (see plate 15) put forward his Atomic 

Theory in explanation of these facts. 

Dalton's This theory assumes (i) that all matter 

Theory. ^^ made up of small indivisible and in- 
destructible 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 com- 
pounds 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 com- 
pound (now called a "molecule") must consist of 
a definite assemblage of different atoms, and these 

100 ALCHEMY [§ 75 

atoms are of definite weight : whence the law of 
constant proportion. One atom of one substance may 
combine with i, 2, 3 . . . atoms of some other sub- 
stance, 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 combina- 
tion, 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 
na 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 enunciq,tion. 
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, 

PLATE i6. 



To face page icoj 


rather than the chemists qua chemists, who have 
insisted on the absolute truth of the Atomic Theory ; 
Kekul^, who by developing Franklin's theory of 
atomicity or valency 3 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 

3 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. Hydro- 
gen, 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. The under- 
lying reason of this regularity remains unknown (see § 8i), and 
there are very many curious exceptions to it. 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). 

102 ALCHEMY [§ 77 

consequently not impervious to all forms of action. 

But of this more will be said later. 

§ 76. With the acceptance of Dalton's Atomic 

Theory, it became necessary to determine the atomic 

weights of the various elements, i.e., not 

Determination ^^^ absolute atomic weights, but the 

of the Atomic relative weights of the various atoms 

Weights of ^j|.]-^ reference to one of them as unit.4 
the Elements. ___ . . . , 

We cannot m this place enter upon a 

discussion of the various difficulties, both of an experi- 
mental 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 " ele- 
ments," together with their atomic weights, will be 
found on pp. io6, 107. 

§ 77. It was observed by a chemist of the name of 
Prout, that, the atomic weight of hydrogen being taken 

♦ Since hydrogen is the lightest of all known substances, the unit, 
Hydrogen = i, was atone 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 = i6 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. 


as the unit, the atomic weights of nearly all the ele- 
ments approximated to whole numbers ; and in 1 8 1 5 

he suggested as the reason for this regu- 
^°?* ^. larity, 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 demon- 
strate 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 iis 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 
^^ 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 0= 16 as the unit) do approxi- 
mate very closely to such. The Hon. R. J. Strutthas 
recently calculated that the probability of this occur- 
ring, in the case of certain of the commoner elements, 
by mere chance is exceedingly small (about i in 

104 ALCHEMY [§ 77 

i,ooo.)5 Several hypotheses attempting to explain 
this very remarkable fact have been put forward, 
but its real significance still remains unknown.^ 

5 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, 

^ Two examples of these attempts must here suffice. Mr. A. C. G. 
Egerton ("The Divergence of the Atomic Weights of the Lighter 
Elements from Whole Numbers," Journal of the Chemical Societyy 
vol. xcv. pp. 238 et seq.y 1909) finds that the atomic weights (H=i) 
of the lighter elements (up to Phosphorus) can be calculated with 
considerable accuracy by means of the formulae — 

(i) M = 2N ± 0*0078 X 2N and (ii) M = 2N 4- i ± 0*0078 X 2N, 

where M is the atomic weight, and N the number of the element, 
reckoning Helium as 2, Lithium as 3, and so on, the elements being 
numbered in the order of their atomic weights. The first formula 
applies in the case of " even " elements, the second in the case of 
"odd" elements. For elements of higher atomic weight, similar 
but niore complicated formulae were found for those with atoms 
not heavier than Cobalt. Beyond Cobalt the method does not 
appear to be applicable. The author suggests that, since the figure 
0*0078 represents approximately the weight of a group of eight 
electrons (see below, §§79 and 80), the elements may be built up 
of conglomerates of hydrogen atoms with groups of eight or sixteen 
electrons added or subtracted. But, as he remarks at the close of 
his paper (p. 242), " The physical interpretation of the relation given 
is evidently not the only one that can be devised. Since the ele- 
ments are built up by the conglomeration of the fundamental stuff, 
although not necessarily evolved in order of atomic weight, and 
since the atoms probably differ in internal structure, there are certain 
to be changes in the internal energy of the atoms causing slight 
differences in mass. One would expect such changes to be pro- 
portional to the increase of the amount of the original stuff which 
conglomerates ; the formula M = A ± A (0.0078) [A = 2NI agrees 
with this idea; and, further, it is conceivable that an increase in 
the size of an atom, due to addition of more matter, and the 
formation of a new atom, might either cause an increase or decrease 
of energy according to the configuration of the new atom ; the 
positive and negative sign in the formula might thus be explained." 


§ 78. A remarkable property of the atomic weights 

was discovered, in the sixties, independently by 

Lothar Meyer and Mendeleeff. They 

The found that the elements could be 

La^ » 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. io6, 107. 

It will be noticed, for example, that the "alkali'* 

metals. Lithium, Sodium, Rubidium and Caesium, which 

Dr. James Moir ("A Method of Harmonising the Atomic Weights,'* 
Journal of the Chemical Society^ vol. xcv. pp. 1752 et seq.^ 1909) 
criticises the above-mentioned paper. He assumes (p. 1752) "the 
cause of valency, at all events the fundamental valency of each 
element, to be the presence, in varying numbers, of a sub-element 
of atomic weight y^Tj- [= -0089] .... If this be denoted by /i, then 
the univalent elements contain i^, the bivalent 2/i, the tervalent 3/i, 
and so on. In addition, the author conceives the main bulk of 
the mass of the elements to be due to polymerisation of an entity 
consisting of the hydrogen atom less the aggregation /z. Denoting 
this by H, we have, for example: H = H-f-/ii; Li=7H-H/i; 
C = 12H + 4/ii ; O = 16H -f 2/i ; Ne = 20H ; Na = 23H -f /x ; 
Ag = 108H + fi ; Cs = 133H -I- /i." The atomic weights calcu- 
lated on these assumptions are in excellent agreement with the 
experimental. Thus — 

H -h /* = H = 1-0078, 


H = 1*0078 - '0089 — '9989. 
Li = 7H + /i = 7'ooi (Experimental value = 6'94) 
O = 16H 4" 2/i = 1 6'ooo (Experimental value = i6*oo) 
Ne = 20H = 19-978 (Experimental value = 20*2), &c. 

However, there are some elements which do not fit into this scheme, 
and whose atomic weights can be calculated by this method only by 
employing multiples of H involving one decimal figure (for example, 
Chlorine and Sulphur), which elements the author regards as not 
being direct polymerides of H. 





Iron Fe =» 5585 <= 
Cobalt Co = 58-97 
Nickel Ni = 58 68 

II li* li* 

.2 e 1 



(U en 
.2 cv 






S P 
.2 N 




S H 



S p 

S 11 


§ It 


S vo 






1 II 




H a 



s r 




3 ^ 

1— 1 





.2 i^ 



3 « 

'^ II 




2 <^ 
'53 f^ 


6 .^ 

3 VO 

:s B 
3 -, 



■-5 II 


c P' 



Osmium Os = 190*9 
Iridium Ir = 193*1 
Platinum Pt = 195*2 











S 11 




c II 












-2 ^ 






n3 ON 





s5^>:a ^ 

p3 3 

> D O -S 

^O <U y O 

'^.^ ^-G 

•^ S O In 

■t: s 1^ 

r! o oj (u 

CO 173 <U 

<L) ^ >^ 

S g S o 
■5 c D g 

CO a, c 

2-- =^ 

<u -" G £2 

H -a- 
o t/i^ 53 

to g -a 

■5 ^--2 




g ^ 

O u 

ii ^2 

3! ^i 

■5 cJi 

^ -^H 


.a c 


k- "C cJ J3 CI, 

^ ^ H .ti H 




H'^ (o^ 
G g:2 

■2i |> 0.2^ o 

t: 4i 


gH c -^i '^ to w-t: rt •- 2 

^ go g i g - o o^^^ 

j_,.0 »,jQ^^i-i'T3G'«- T.„ 
^ ^J3M^M *-^ Otfl g^o a 

gS*iti'Orf.g°^-o 2Sii 

o -^ :S fn^ ^ ^ S < -r^ ^ « 



o tJ 

<" o 
ti g 

i5 g 

d w S 

S O '^•^ ;ii PI !5 " _e d fli 

^ -a 3 G *" X >»-§ ™ 3^ 

--i ^-5 g <U (U G<4J ^ 5^ S 

o >r>-Q fli cj 'w 

O cJ 

1) (U -5 OJ <u 

Gr5 C^ G*^*^ V; 

G^-2.^ g g ^ 

§ ^ x: "* ^ ^ S 

to H ^ ."S 13 13 eS 

'C C cJ 

108 ALCHEMY [§ 78 

resemble one another very closely, fall in Column i ; 
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 regu- 
larity exhibited by the ** elements " is of considerable 
importance, since it shows that, in general, the pro- 
perties 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. 

It is now some years since Sir William Crookes first 
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 represents 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 
Mendeleeff s table, though the grouping difTers in 
some respects. The slope of the curve is supposed 
to represent the decline of some factor {e.g., tempera- 
ture) 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 pro- 
duced, each member of which resembles the corre- 
sponding 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. 

§ 79. We must now turn our attention to those 
recent views of the constitution of matter which 

^ originated to a great extent in the in- 

Corpuscular vestigations of the passage of electricity 
Theory of 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 in- 
vestigations 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.7 

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- 

7 We have found Prof. Harry Jones' The Electrical Nature oj 
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. 

110 ALCHEMY [§ 80 

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 corre- 
sponding 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 I : 1 700. 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 

§ 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 

•n- r xr. X experimentallv verified by Kaufmann, 
Proof that ^ .,i ,.. 11 

the Electrons who determmed the velocities, and the 

are not ratios between the electrical char2:e and 
* ®^* the inertia, of various kathode particles 
and similar particles which are emitted by com- 
pounds 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, there- 
fore, 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. 

** T/ie corpuscle isy then, nothing but a disembodied 
electrical charge, containing nothing material, as we 
have been accustomed to use that term. It is elec- 
tricity, 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''^ Applying this modification to the above 
view of the constitution of matter, we have what is 
called "the electronic theory," namely, that the 

2 H. C. Jones : The Electrical Nature of Matter and Radioactivity 
(1906), p. 21. 

112 ALCHEMY [§ 81 

material atoms consist of electrons, or units of elec- 
tricity in rapid motion ; which amounts to this — that 
matter is simply an electrical phenomenon. 

§ 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, 

Electronic and has attempted to find therein the 

Theory of significance of Mendeldeff's generalisa- 
^ ®^* tion and the explanation of valency. 
There can be no doubt that there is a consider- 
able element of truth in the electronic theory of 
matter ; the one characteristic property of matter, 
i.e., inertia, can be accounted-for electrically; but 
further than this it is not yet possible to say. The 
fundamental difficulty is that the electrons are units 
of negative electricity, whereas matter is electrically 
neutral. Is there a positive electron? Professor Sir 
J. J. Thomson assumes a sphere or shell of positive 
electrification wherein the (negative) electrons re- 
volve ; and to this positive electricity, it seems, must 
be ascribed the major portion of the inertia or mass 
of the atom, for recent work has proved that the 
number of electrons in an atom is approximately 
equal to the atomic weight of that atom as expressed 
in terms of H = i or O = i6 as unit. This fact has 
rather discountenanced the corpuscular and electronic 
theories of matter, which as originally formulated 
assumed the whole mass of the atom to be due alone 
to corpuscles or electrons, and, therefore, required the 
atoms to contain thousands of such units ; but, as Pro- 
fessor Sir J. J. Thomson has pointed out, it is not really 
incompatible therewith, if, as does not seem unlikely, 
all mass Is really mass of the ether of space (see next 


section).9 The whole question, however, cannot be 
regarded as finally settled ; but it is hoped that further 
research will throw light on the disputed points. 

§ 82. The analysis of matter has been carried a 

step further. A philosophical view of the Cosmos 

, involves the assumption of an absolutely 

Etheric continuous and homogeneous medium 
Theory of 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 trans- 
mission of light : the idea that matter has its explana- 
tion therein is being developed by Sir Oliver Lodge. 
The evidence certainly points to the conclusion that 
matter is some sort of singularity in the ether, prob- 
ably 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, 

9 See Professor Sir J. J. Thomson : The Corpuscular Theory of 
Matter (1907), especially pp. 142 et seq. 


114 ALCHEMY [§ 83 

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 im- 
penetrable solid, whilst a revolving disc of paper 
exhibits elasticity and can act as a circular saw.^^ 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. 

§ 83. There are also certain other facts which 

appear to demand such a modification of Dalton's 

Atomic Theory as is found in the 

Evidence Electronic Theory. One of the charac- 

of the teristics of the chemical elements is that 

Complexity each one gives a spectrum peculiar to 

of the Atoms. . ,r ^^ ^ ^ 1 ^ 

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- 

^° See Sir Oliver Lodge, F.R.S. : T/ie Ether of Space (1909). 


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 in- 
credible 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 com- 
plex elements from simpler ones, since the hottest 
nebulae appear to consist of but a few simple elements, 
whilst cooler bodies exhibit a greater complexity. 

§ 85. Such modifications of the atomic theory 
as those we have briefly discussed above, although 
profoundly modifying, and, indeed, con- 
Views of trovertinp^ the philosophical sis^nificance 
Ostwald. ^^ Dalton's theory as originally formu- 
lated, 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. ^ I 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 ^Aey 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 

" 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. 

116 ALCHEMY [§ M 

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 ^^ ; 
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 it is too early in the history 
of the controversy to say what the ultimate result will 
be. So far as can be seen, however, it appears that, 
on the one hand, the atomic theory is not necessitated 
by the so-called "stoichiometric laws"; whilst, 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. ^3 

" W. Ostwald : " Faraday Lecture," Journal of the Chemical 
Society, vol. Ixxxv. (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. 

^3 For an account of this singular phenomenon, see Prof. Jean 
Perrin : Brownian Movement and Molecular Reality (translated 
from the Annates de Chimie et de Physique, 8me Series, September, 
1909, by F. Soddy, M.A., F.R.S., 1910). 


§ 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 
Alchemy " 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. 

§ 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 


118 ALCHEMY [§ 87 

tube,' 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 

X-rays and ]y[ Becquerel who first discovered that 

jg^yg^ there are substances which naturally 

emit radiations similar to X-rays. He 
found that uranium compounds affected a photo- 
graphic plate from which they were carefully screened, 
and he also showed that these uranium radiations, 
or '' Becquerel rays," resemble X-rays in other par- 
ticulars. 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 pro- 
perty, and Professor Rutherford showed that thorium 
compounds evolved also something resembling a gas. 
He called this an ''emanation." 

§ 87. Mme. Curie ^ determined the radioactivity of 
many uranium and thorium compounds, and found 
that there was a proportion between the radioactivity 

' They must not be confused with the greenish-yellow phosphor- 
escence which is also produced : the X-rays are invisible. 

"" See Madame Sklodowska Curie's Radio-active Substances (2nd 
ed., 1904). 


of such compounds and the quantity of uranium or 
thorium in them, with the remarkable exception of 
certain natural ores, which had a radio- 
of Radlum^^ activity 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 radio- 
active substance, and the Curies were able, after very 
considerable labour, to extract from pitchblende (the 
ore with the greatest radioactivity) minute quanti- 
ties of the salts of two new elements — which they 
named *' Polonium " and '' Radium " respectively — 
both of which were extremely radioactive. 

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

§ 88. Radium is an element resembling calcium, 

strontium, and barium in chemical properties ; its 

atomic weight was determined by Mme. 

Chemical Pro- Curie, and found to be about 22 s, accord- 
perties of . , ^ . ^ , 

Radium. ^^§ ^^ ^^^ ^^^^ experiments ; a redeter- 
mination gave a slightly higher value, 
which has been confirmed by a further investigation 
carried out by Sir T. E. Thorpe. 3 Radium gives a 

3 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. Ixxx. 
pp. 298 et seq. ; reprinted in The Chemical News ^ vol. xcvii. pp. 229 
et seq. (May 15, 1908). 

120 ALCHEMY [§ 89 

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. More recently Mme. Curie, in 

conjunction with M. Debierne, has 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 


§ 89. Radium salts give off three distinct sorts of 

rays, referred to by the Greek letters «, ^, 7. The 

a-rays have been shown to consist of 

The Radio- electrically charged (positive) particles, 

activity of ., ^ • ^ 1 w .u ! 

Radium. ^^^" ^ 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 j3-rays are similar to the 
kathode rays, and consist of (negative) electrons ; they 
are strongly deviated by a magnetic field, in a direc- 
tion opposite to that in which the a-particles are 
deviated, and possess medium penetrative power, 
passing for the most part through a thin sheet of 
metal. The 7-rays resemble X-rays; they possess 

4 Madame P. Curie and M. A. Debierne : ** Sur le radium 
metallique," Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des Seances PAcademie 
des Sciences, vol. cli. (1910), pp. 523-525. (For an English trans- 
lation of this paper see The Chemical News, vol. cii. p. 175.) 


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 loo. 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 
monatom.ic, so that a density of lOO would give its 
atomic weight as 200. 5 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 has been confirmed by further experiments 
recently carried out by Sir William Ramsay and Dr. 
R. W. Gray.6 These chemists have 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 

5 This follows from Avogadro's Hypothesis, see § 76. 

^ Sir William Ramsay and Dr. R. W. Gray : " La densite de 
I'emanation du radium," Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des Seances 
de VAcadimie des Sciences^ vol. cvi. (1910), pp. 126 et seq. 

122 ALCHEMY [§90 

balance being employed. Values for the density- 
varying from 1 08 to 113J, corresponding to values 
for the atomic weight varying from 216 to 227, were 
thereby obtained. Sir William Ramsay, therefore, 
considers that there can no longer be any doubt 
that the emanation is one of the elements of the 
group of chemically inert gases. He proposes to 
call it Niton, and, for reasons which we shall note 
later, considers that in all probability it has an atomic 
weight of 22 2 J. 

§ 90. Radium salts possess another very remarkable 

property, namely, that of continuously emitting light 

and heat. It seemed, at first, that here 

The Disinte- ^^g ^ startling^ contradiction to the law of 
gration of the . . r i 1 i 1 

Radium Atom, 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 num- 
ber (see § 8 1 ) 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 /3-rays), 
which, striking the undecomposed particles of salt, 
give rise to pulses in the ether (the 7-rays),7 just as 
the kathode particles give rise to X-rays when they 

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


strike the walls of the vacuum tube or a platinum disc 
placed in their path. The jS and y-rays do not, how- 
ever, result immediately from the exploding radium- 
atoms, the initial products being the emanation and 
one a-particle from each radium-atom destroyed. 

§ 91. Radium salts have the property of causing 

surrounding objects to become temporally radioactive. 

This '* induced radioactivity," as it may 

emanation, which is itself radioactive 
(it emits a-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 /3 and y-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). 

§ 92. Uranium and thorium differ in one important 

respect from radium, inasmuch as the first product of 

the decomposition of the uranium and 

Properties of thorium atoms is in both cases solid. 

Thorium. ^^^ William Crookes ^ was able to sepa- 
rate 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. 

2 Sir William Crookes, F.R.S. : " Radio-activity of Uranium," 
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London^ vol. Ixvi. (1900), pp. 409 
et seq. 

124 ALCHEMY [§ 93 

Becquerel, on repeating the experiment, found that 
the activity of the residual uranium was slowly re- 
gained, 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 other- 
wise there would be none in existence — it would all 
have decomposed. This suggestion has been experi- 
mentally 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. 

§ 93. We must now more fully consider the radium 
emanation — a substance with more astounding pro- 
perties than even the radium compounds 
EmanatioiT themselves. By distilling off the emana- 
tion from some radium bromide, and 
measuring the quantities of heat given off by the 
emanation and the radium salt respectively. Professors 
Rutherford and Barnes 9 proved that nearly three- 
fourths of the total amount of heat given out by a 
radium salt comes from the minute quantity of emana- 
tion that it contains. The amount of energy liberated 
as heat during the decay of the emanation is enor- 
mous; one cubic centimetre liberates about four 

9 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. 


million times as much heat as is obtained by the 
combustion of an equal volume of hydrogen. Un- 
doubtedly this must indicate some profound change, 
and one may well ask, What is the ultimate product 
of the decomposition of the emanation ? 

§ 94. It had been observed already that the radio- 
active minerals on heating give off Helium — a 
The Produc- ^^^^^^^ element, characterised by a 
tion of particular yellow line in its spectrum — 
Helium from and it seemed not unlikely that helium 
a lum. inighi- be ^\^q ultimate decomposition 
product of the emanation. A research to settle 
this point was undertaken by Sir William Ram- 
say and Mr. Soddy,^^ and a preliminary experi- 
ment 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 experi- 
ment 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 

" Sir William Ramsay and Frederick Soddy: "Experiments 
in Radioactivity and the Production of Helium from Radium," 
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London^ vol. Ixxii. (1903), 
pp. 204 et seq. 

126 ALCHEMY [§ 94 

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 a-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 com- 
pletely 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 a-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." Now, the emanation- 
atom results from the radium-atom by the expulsion 
of one a-particle ; and since this latter consists of an 
electrically charged helium-atom, it follows that the 
emanation must have an atomic weight of 226J-4, i.e., 
22 2 J. This value is in agreement with Sir William 
Ramsay's determination of the density of the emana- 
tion. We may represent the degradation of the 
radium-atom, therefore, by the following scheme : — 

^^ a-particle (Helium-atom) 
Radium-atom"''^^'^ 4 

226^ ^^ ^^^a-particle (Helium-atom) 

^^ Emanation (Niton-atom)-'^^ 4 



Radium-A, &c. 

" E. Rutherford, F.R.S., and T. Royds, M.Sc. : "The Nature 
of the a-Particle from Radio-active Substances," Philosophica 
Magazine [6], vol. xvii. (1909), pp. 281 et seq. 


§ 95. Here, then, for the first time in the history of 
Chemistry, we have the undoubted formation of one 

chemical element from another, for, 
this Change ^^^.ving 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 sug- 
gested that radium may be a compound of helium 
with some unknown element ; or, perhaps, a com- 
pound of helium with lead, since it has been thought 
that lead may be one of the end products of the 
decomposition of radium. The following considera- 
tions, 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 by some investigators, though it has 
been denied by others, 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 ^^) ; whereas helium 
" By Ramsay. See Froc. Ckem, Soc, vol. xxv. (1909), pp. 82 and 83. 

128 ALCHEMY [§ 96 

is the lightest of all known gases with the exception 
of hydrogen and has been liquefied only by the most 
persistent effort.'^ The emanation, moreover, is radio- 
active, giving off a-particles, whereas helium does not 
possess this property. 

§ 96. It has been pointed out, however, that (in a 
sense) this change (viz., of emanation into helium) is 

Is this ^^^ quite what has been meant by the 

Change a expression " transmutation of the ele- 

true Trans- ments " ; for the reason that it is a 
mutation? . , , cc 4. c 

spontaneous change ; no effort of ours 

can bring it about or cause it to cease.''* 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, ^5 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 essen- 
tial 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 

^3 By Professor Onnes. See Chemical News, vol. xcviii. p. 37 
(July 24, 1908). 

H See Professor H. C. Jones : The Electrical Nature of Matter 
and Radioactivity (1906), pp. 125-126. 

'5 It has been definitely proved, for example, that the common 
element potassium is radioactive, though very feebly so (it emits 
/3-rays). It is also interesting to note that many common substances 
emit corpuscles at high temperatures. 


slower than appears to have been imagined by certain 
of the alchemists, '6 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 spec- 
troscope some stages of the operation may be seen in 
progress in the nebulae and stars. . . ." ^^ We have 

**' Says Peter Bonus, however, "... we know that the genera- 
tion 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. 

'^ 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 


130 ALCHEMY [§ 97 

next to consider whether there is any experimental 
evidence showing it to be possible (using the phrase- 
ology of the alchemists) for man to assist in Nature's 

§ 97. As we have already indicated above (§ 93), 

the radium emanation contains a vast store of poten- 

, _ tial energy, and it was with the idea of 

duction of utilising this energy for bringing about 

Neon from chemical changes that Sir William 

mana ion. R^jYigay ^^ undertook a research on 
the chemical action of this substance — a research 
with the most surprising and the most important 
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 

thought concerning the nature of the physical universe. Such, 
however, would lie without the confines of the present work. 

'^ 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. IL, 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 seq. 


attained. On examining spectroscopically the gas 
obtained by the action of the emanation on water, 
after the removal of the ordinary gases, a most sur- 
prising resuh 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 elec- 
trodes (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 transforma- 
tion 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 transmuta- 
tion of which conclusive evidence is put forward!' ^9 
However, Professor Rutherford and Mr. Royds have 
been unable to confirm this result. They describe ^o 
attempts to obtain neon by the action of emanation 

^"^ Journal of the Chemical Society^ vol. xciii. (1908), p. 997. 

=^° E. Rutherford, F.R.S., and T. Royds, M.Sc. : "The Action 
of Radium Emanation on Water," Philosophical Magazine [6], 
vol. xvi. (1908), pp. Z\2 et seq. 

132 ALCHEMY [§ 98 

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 explanation be accepted it 
is difficult to understand why the presence of neon 
should be observed in the experiments with water, 
and argon in the experiments with copper solutions 
(see below, § 98). We are inclined, therefore, to 
accept Sir William Ramsay's results, but it is quite 
evident that further experiments are necessary to 
settle the question indisputably. 

§ 98. The fact that an excess of hydrogen was pro- 
duced when water was decomposed by the emanation 
suggested to Sir William Ramsay and 
Ramsay's jyjj. Cameron that if a solution of a 
Experiments n- 1 1 1 • 1 r 

on Copper, nietallic salt was employed m place ot 

pure water, the free metal might be 
obtained. These " modern alchemists," therefore, 
proceeded to investigate the action of radium emana- 
tion 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 emana- 
tion, 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, § loo). 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.^i The 
authors make the following suggestions: "(i) That 
helium and the a-particle are not identical ; (2) that 
helium results from the ' degradation ' of the large 
molecule of emanation by its bombardment with 
a-partlcles ; (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 * degrada- 
tion' 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 
" See pp. 106, 107. 

134 ALCHEMY [§ 100 

chief product of the * degradation * of copper is 
sodium." " 

§ 99. More recently Madame Curie and Made- 
moiselle Gleditsch^^ have repeated Cameron and 
Further Ramsay's experiments on copper salts, 
Experiments using, however, platinum apparatus, 
on Radium They failed to detect lithium after the 
opper. ^^^[q^ of ^Y^Q emanation, and think 
that Cameron and Ramsay's results may be due 
to the glass vessels employed. Dr. Perman """^ recently 
investigated the direct action of the emanation on 
copper and gold, and 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. 

§ 100. In his presidential address to the Chemical 
Bamsay'sEx- Society, March 25, 1909, after having 
periments on brought forward some exceedingly in- 
Thorium and teresting arguments for the possibility of 
transmutation, Sir William Ramsay de- 
scribed some experiments which he had carried out on 

" Journal of the Chemical Society^ vol. xci. (1907), pp. 1605-1606. 
More recent experiments, however, have proved that the a-particle does 
consist of an electrically charged helium-atom, and this view is now 
accepted by Sir William Ramsay, so that the above suggestions 
must be modified in accordance therewith. (See §§89 and 94.) 

^3 Madame Curie and Mademoiselle Gleditsch: "Action de 
I'emanation du radium sur les solutions des sels de cuivre," 
Comptes Rend^is hebdomadaires des Siances de PAcademie des Sciences, 
vol. cxlvii. (1908), pp. 345 ef seq. (For an English translation of 
this paper, see The Chemical News, vol. xcviii. pp. 157 and 158.) 

""^ Edgar Philip Perman : " The Direct Action of Radium on 
Copper and Gold," Proceedings of the Chemical Society, vol. xxiv. 
(1908), p. 214. 

§ 100] MODERN ALCHEMY 135 

thorium and allied elements.^^ 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 inves- 
tigated ; 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 per- 
chlorate 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 con- 
fidently be asserted that certain elements, when 
exposed to 'concentrated energy,' undergo degrada- 
tion into carbon." Some such confirmatory experi- 
ments have already been carried out by Sir William 
Ramsay and Mr. Francis L. Usher, who also 
describe an experiment with a compound of titanium. 
Their results confirm Sir William Ramsay's former 
experiments. Carbon-dioxide was obtained in appre- 
ciable quantities by the action of emanation on com- 

'^ Sir William Ramsay: "Elements and 'ElQcirons" Journal of 
the Chemical Society^ vol. xcv. (1909), pp. 624 ^^ seq. 


136 ALCHEMY [§ 102 

pounds of silicon, titanium, zirconium and thorium. 
In the case of lead, the amount of carbon dioxide 
obtained was inappreciable.^^ 

§ 101. It does not seem unlikely that if it is pos- 
sible to " degrade " elements, it may be possible to 
build them up. It has been suggested 
The Pos- ^Y^^^ j|. n^igrht be possible to obtain, in 
sibilityof , . u r -i • u 

Making Gold. ^"^^ ^^Jy gold from silver, smce 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 sur- 
passes the ordinary imagination. It is a theme that 
ought to appeal to a novelist of exceptional imagina- 
tive 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 quan- 
tity of gold that may be hoped for by its aid is 
extremely small. 

§ 102. A very suggestive argument for the trans- 
mutation of the metals was put forward by Professor 
Henry M. Howe, LL.D., in a paper entitled " Allo- 
tropy or Transmutation?" read before the British 
Association (Section B), Sheffield Meeting, 1910. 

^^ For a brief account in English of these later experiments see 
T/ie Chemical News^ vol. c. p. 209 (October 29, 1909). 

§ 102] MODERN ALCHEMY 137 

Certain substances are known which, although differ- 
ing in their physical properties very markedly, behave 
chemically as if they were one and the 

The Big- same element, fifivinsf rise to the same 
nificance of . - ,011 

*' AUotropy." series of compounds, buch substances, 

of which we may mention diamond, 
graphite and charcoal (^.^., 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, more- 
over, convertible one into the other.^^ 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 ' ele- 
ments ' as substances hitherto indivisible, and dif- 
ferent 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 con- 
fronted with the change from diamond into lamp- 
black, and with the facts, first, that each is clearly 

^7 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 arti- 
ficial 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. 

138 ALCHEMY [§ 102 

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 ? 

** 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 ? " ^8 

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 mole- 
cules of such "modifications," and not to any dif- 
ferences in the atoms themselves. But we cannot 
argue that two such "allotropic modifications" or 
elements which are transmutable into one another 

*^ Professor Henry M. Howe, LL.D. : "Allotropy or Trans- 
mutation." (See The Chemical News^ vol. cii. pp. 153 and 154, 
September 23, 19 10.) 

§ 102] MODERN ALCHEMY 139 

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 "allo- 
tropic 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 equiva- 
lent to, different quantities of energy,"*^ since the 
change of one " form " to another takes place only 
with the evolution or absorption (as the case may be) 
of heat. 30 But, according to modern views regard- 
ing the nature of matter, this is the sole fundamental 

^' 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, 19 10). 

3° In some cases the heat change accompanying the transforma- 
tion of an element into an " allotropic modication " 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. 

140 ALCHEMY [§ 103 

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 transmuta- 
tion 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 trans- 
mutation 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 simul- 
taneously with the spontaneous decomposition of the 
radium emanation. That this highly concentrated 
form of energy does result in effecting the same 
appears to be indicated by Sir William Ramsay's 

§ 103. We have shown that modern science indi- 
cates the essential truth of alchemistic doctrine, and 

our task is ended. We can conclude 
Conclusion. . , i i ^• 

m no better way than by quotmg 

these words of the greatest "modern alchemist": 
"If these hypotheses [concerning the possibility 
of causing the atoms of ordinary elements to 
absorb energy] are just," said Sir William Ramsay 
in 1904, "then the transmutations of the ele- 
ments no longer appears an idle dream. The 
philosopher's stone will have been discovered, and 

§ 103] MODERN ALCHEMY 141 

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 vitcs. 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 ? " 3i This was said before 
his remarkable experiments which appear to indicate 
that he has discovered the Philosopher's Stone ; 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 Vitce, Who knows? 

3' Sir William Ramsay : " Radium and its Products," Harper's 
Magazine (December, 1904), vol. xlix. (European Edition), p. 57. 


Ube (3resbam press* 


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