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R.W. Councell Apollogia Alchymiae
Section II. Modern Criticism
Transcribed by Mark House.
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In order that the statements of modern critics may be assessed at their proper value, a list is here given of things which Ripley, endorsed by Eirenaeus, says are useless, and even injurious in the work. Other eminent alchemists, in their candid moments, warn students against using these and many other ingredients.
Antimony (not worth a mite), amalgams, acids, ardent and corrosive waters, arsenic, orpiment blood, copper rust, copper vitriol, eggs, egg-shells, ferments, hair, iron, steel, iron scales, crocifer, soul of lead, litharge, mercury (quicksilver), vermillion, mercury sublimed, mercury precipitated, marchasite, oils from calces, oil of lime, rubified imperfect bodies, spirits, sulphur, sandiver, and these salts : ammoniac, alkali, alembroth, attincker, tartar, common salt, gem, petre, soda, tinctures white and red, wine, vitiols (i.e., sulphates, and other crystallized salts). The author of the Mystery and Romance of Alchemy and Pharmacy writes: " Men of undoubted ability and genius wasted both their lives and their fortunes over the search for this illusive chimera, etc." The use of the word "chimera" implies, of course, that he does not believe that any of them did what they claimed to have done. He prejudges the whole question from the standpoint of his own attainments. So also, some say " there is no God " because they have not found Him. He also says: "The notorious Dr. Dee is said to have received immense sums of money from dupes for imparting the coveted secret, which he demonstrated by means of an ingenious trick." He does not quote any authority for so important a statement, nor explain even the nature of the ingenious trick.
Again: "Bacon states that sulphur and mercury are the mineral roots and natural principles upon which Nature herself acts and works in the mines and caverns of the earth; the latter metal he believed to be the true elixir of the philosopher's stone." This is not a true presentment of Bacon's sayings. Bacon did not believe and did not write that the metal mercury was an ingredient. He says: "The first work is the reducing the Body into Water, that is into Mercury." And: "Our tincture then, is only generated out of the mercury of the wise. . . because from this Mercury alone, is the Virtue and Power of this our Magistery: and it so resolves every (Metalline) Body, that it may be augmented or multiplied." "The second principle of our Stone is called Mercury." Notice the Body is not dissolved in Mercury, there is no amalgam; but resolved, as others say, into a clear water, called by them Mercury. This modern author also says: ". . . others, including Rhazes and Merlin, believed it to be an amalgam of gold and mercury, fantastically called the Red man and his White wife." It is difficult to understand how many reading of alchemic treatises save of the most superficial kind, can give rise to such an interpretation. Just as their sulphur was not brimstone, for it was incombustible (see Geber, Sendivogius, etc.), so their mercury was neither hydrargyrum nor any of its salts. (See Ripley's "Erroneous Experiments.") True, the Red Man is gold but the Mercury, which is the White Wife, was a substance compounded by art, therefore, not mercury. Eirenaeus on Ripley: "The next secret is to know our Mercury, which is not common, but artificial, drawn from three heads by the mediation of one thing," etc. He makes the same misinterpretation of the alchemic writers; since they agree that common sulphur is not meant, and not used. Extracts from authors on this point will be given later. "The Story of Alchemy" embodies several errors which are perpetuated by other authors, and it is the importance of these errors, and not of the work, which necessitates somewhat extended notice here. As regards the Story of Alchemy, the impression left on the mind by reading it is that the author thinks there may be something in it after all. He mentions that where gold is, silver is found (and he might have added iron), also that all lead contains some silver. But why? It was from hints less evident than this that Wallace and Darwin developed the theory of evolution. The author says: ". . . the one experiment which seems to us to be the crucial experiment of the system, was never accomplished." But surely he cannot expect, for his positive assertion of a negative, a credence he himself denies to others who state the contrary. Indeed, the author of that highly esteemed tract, entitled The Hermetic Art, himself writes: "It is not lawful, nor commendable to reprobate an art, by judges who are ignorant of its laws as well as the facts; and the ignorant negative of such, is by no means sufficient to set aside the affirmative knowledge of so many men of unquestionable credit, piety and virtue, supported by arguments and circumstances of incontestable force."
These men asserted not merely a theory, but that they had accomplished the work with their own hands, and had done so more than once. I will instance Flamel, Eiranaeus Philalethes, and Basil Valentine. The latter, amongst many other things, discovered fulminating gold: this, the modern chemist believes, because he knows it exists, and knows how to prepare it. But he discredits Basil Valentine's assertion that he has made gold; he believes it cannot be made, because it has not come within his own knowledge or experience. And only on those grounds, for he cannot affirm that it is scientifically impossible or incredible. It is necessary to lodge an emphatic protest against the unfairness, the scarcely veiled contempt, that pervades the criticism of the claims of the alchemists. The criticism professes to be an impartial and scientific investigation of the theory of the existence of a law of evolution. It is neither impartial nor scientific.
The author of the Story of Alchemy cites the parable of Mercury and the Alchemist out of Sendivogious, and says: "Sometimes the patient rebelled." Our author does not say why this common mercury rebelled, yet Sendivogious mentions the reason. It is because hydrargyrum is the wrong "mercury" altogether, and could not accomplish the things the pseudo-alchemist required of it. This central fact could not be missed by the most careless reader. "Of what wilt thou make the Philosopher's Stone?" Alchemist: "Of Mercury , sir." Senex: "Oh what Mercury?" Alchemist: "There is but one Mercury." Senex: "It is true, there is but one Mercury, but altered variously, according to the variety of places; one is purer than another." Alchemist: O, sir, I know how to purify it very well with vinegar and salt, with nitre and vitriol." Senex: "I tell thee this is not the true purifying of it, neither is this, thus purified, the true Mercury: wise men have another Mercury, and another manner of purifying it."
Again, Alchemist: "Do tell me if thou art the true Mercury, or if there be another." Mercury: "I am Mercury, but there is another." And so on, all through the parable. The modern author says: "Those who pretended to know, abused and vilified those who differed from them." The word "pretended" abuses and vilifies those who solemnly swore that they had done the work; it also begs the whole question. He quotes Madathanas in support of his statement, omitting, however, to quote the following pregnant sentence by the same author. "To the Most High and Almighty God, the Creator of this Art, Whom it hath pleased to reveal to me, wretched, sinful man (in answer to my prayer), this most precious knowledge, be eternal praise, glory, honour, and thanksgiving." This alters the standpoint to that of an honest man who is indignant with those who defraud others by false methods, knowing them to be false and futile. In the same partial manner he quotes The Only True Way and omits this sentence: "I myself may not speak out as plainly as I would, for I am silenced by the vow, which binds all the masters of the Art." One does not need to be an expert in economics to visualize what would happen if a recipe were given "making this art as common as the baking of bread, or the brewing of beer."
On page 96 : Op. cit. the author writes: "The story quoted in chap. III., from Michael Sendivogious, illustrates the difficulty which the alchemists themselves had in understanding what they meant by the term "Mercury"; yet there is perhaps no word more often used by them than that. Some of them evidently took it to mean the substance then, and now called mercury; the results of this literal interpretation were disastrous; others thought of mercury as a substance which could be obtained, or, at any rate, might be obtained, by repeatedly distilling ordinary mercury, both alone and when mixed with other substances, etc." Here, again, he makes no distinction between alchemists who had, or might have, done the work, and who, therefore, knew perfectly well what "their mercury" was, and those who were groping after the hidden meaning of these adepts. He mentions that Basil Valentine wrote the "Dedicatory Epistle" to the Triumphal Chariot of Antimony. Surely this is written by his commentator Theodore Kerckringius; it is exactly his style, as used in his address "to the Reader" and in the comments throughout the work. Furthermore, these words occur in the Dedicatory Epistle: "Since in the words of Basilius, I have already gained a place in a higher class."
The author of the Story Of Alchemy also says: "The yellow lion was the alchemical symbol of yellow sulphides, the red lion was synonymous with cinnabar, and the green lion meant salts of iron and of copper." Ripley must have heard, or read, similar remarks nearly 500 years ago, for he says in his Erroneous Experiments: "Also I wrought in Sulphur and in Vitriol, which fools do call the Green Lion." Also in Ripley's "Sixth Gate":
"The said Menstrua is (I say to thee in counsel) The blood of our Green Lion, and not of Vitriol."
Ripley, in his Medulla Alchimiae, contrasts these two Green Lions. All these lions are one in nature though two in substance; the Green is a very immature or unripe thing, the Yellow is a more matured state of "our Unripe Gold," the Red Lion is the perfect state, sometimes applied to the philosopher's red stone, but more usually to ordinary gold. Neither of these lions contained common sulphur, nor common mercury, nor any of their derivatives. Neither Hg nor S entered into the composition of the Great Stone, as is shown later on. Again: "Black sulphides were called eagles, and sometimes crows." I cannot find it so in my reading. "When black sulphide of mercury is strongly heated, a red sublimate is obtained, which has the same composition as the black compound; if the temperature is not kept very high, but little of the red sulphide is produced; the alchemist is directed to urge the fire, "else the black crows will go back to the nest."
The application of the production of these sulphides of mercury to the process of the sages is hopelessly wrong. First, they used no mercury and could, therefore, produce no sulphide of mercury; second, they used no sulphur; so, it being absent, could not combine with the mercury which was not present. Thirdly, the essential colours were not black then red: the black itself was soft, bubbling, plastic substance. The colours are black, azure, blue, iridescent, then white.
Scala Philosophorum says: "The sign of the first perfect whiteness is the manifestation of a certain little circle, as of hair that is passing over the head, which will appear on the sides of the vessels round about the matter in a kind of citrine or yellowish colour." This ends in perfect silvery whiteness. This is the White Stone; it is "fermented" with an "oily calx of silver" to produce the elixir which transmutes metals (chiefly copper and iron) into pure silver. The White Stone can, without opening the glass, be rubified by a higher degree of heat into the Red Stone. The attentive student also knows that the crow never evoluted into a scarlet bird direct, but first into a dove, or swan. So in the account of the Noachian deluge, the dove comes into the story after the raven had disappeared. And later we get the account of the red wine of Noah's vineyard. There are two ways of viewing The Story Of Alchemy ; either the author has not succeeded in deciphering the code which the alchemists used to notify their discovery to each other; or he has. In the latter case, it may have seemed good to him to discourage belief in metallic evolution; or in the alternative, to suggest to inquirers the wrong material, in order that the foundations of society might not be upheaved.
The nearer an investigator approaches the heart of the mystery, the more cautious he becomes in his public utterances, for the reasons I have stated.
In Alchemy, Ancient and Modern, by H. Stanley Redgrove, are the following brief and pregnant sentences: "What would be the result if gold could be cheaply produced?" ". . . the financial chaos which would follow, if it were to be cheaply obtained, surpasses the ordinary imagination." The above named book, issued originally in 1911, is written in the spirit of investigation, and should be studied. So much has been discovered lately in the realm of physics, that we are justified in presuming that not every writer on this tremendous subject, and who employs an obscure style, is necessarily merely posing as a mystigogue; or because his innate and inordinate vanity fears exposure. The unbiased student must, I think, conclude that these men discovered this evolutionary law: that they were ages in advance of their times, and are still in advance of ours. When we consider the paucity of their resources we must conclude, also, that their materials were common and cheap, and their method, from a view, simple. All their would-be imitators have been far too subtle and elaborate.
A History of Chemistry, by the late J. Campbell Brown, embracing the subject of alchemy, requires rather an extended review. A few extracts given before entering on the review may assist the reader to judge whether this author's opinion is biased, or scientifically critical.
Speaking of Raymond Lully, he writes (p.97): "The story goes that he was employed by Edward I. of England to make gold for minting, and that he had a laboratory for this purpose at Westminster; but analysis of the coins of that king does not bear out the tale, for they are found to be pure gold, not gold of the philosophers." P.138: "Of course, when we read that Paracelsus said that he possessed a portion of this mystic substance, and he actually transmuted base metals into gold, we feel sure that he was simply telling a lie. Or when we read that Raymund Lully was presented to Edward I. by the abbot of Westminster, and that he made gold for the king from base metals which gold was used for making coins: and when by assays we discover that surviving specimens of these coins are composed of genuine gold, we assume that either King Edward or Raymund Lully was deceived at some point of the process. In a later century, Henry VI. of England and Charles VII. of France coined a quantity of gold made by the Philosopher's Stone, but that gold was undoubtedly spurious."
P.201, on Van Helmont: "He asserted that he had actually witnessed the transmutation of a base metal into gold, a remarkable statement from a man of his lofty character and shrewd powers of observation, which has led some to think that the adepts may have approached nearer to the Magnum Opus than is usually supposed." Of Edward Kelly, he writes: "He seems to have been an accomplished liar."
Touching on these points briefly, he asserts that gold coins of Edward I. are good gold, and therefore not produced by alchemic art; and conversely, the gold coinage of Henry VI. of England, and Charles VII. of France, was debased, therefore, presumably, alchemy may have had a hand in producing it. ". . . we assume that either King Edward or Raymund Lully was deceived at some point of the process." The author seems to assume that this was a chemical experiment; but evidently it was an ordinary commercial issue, and had it not been profitable, the gold would have been purposely debased to make it so. Lully did not strike the coins, he only handed over gold to the king's coiners. A happy deception, truly, where pure gold results, and everyone is perfectly satisfied.
With regard to the episode of Henry VI., there is no evidence as to the kind of gold handed to the official minters; but there is abundant reason supplied by the disastrous events of that reign, for the necessity of a debased coinage for internal circulation. State paper money at 100 per cent. profit was not then known. The debasing of coin was known and practiced in every state at some period of its history, and this quite apart from alchemy : the critic is therefore hard pressed for his argument and illustration to drag in Henry VI. of England and Charles VII. of France, and on the same page to discredit, by a sudden volte-face the account of Edward I.
His statement concerning Van Helmont is distorted; the latter did not merely "witness" a transmutation; here is the account according to Helmont." I had once given me the fourth part of a grain—I call a grain that which takes 600 to make an ounce. I made projection therewith, wrapped in paper, upon eight ounces of quicksilver, having made a little noise, stopped and congealed into a yellow mass. Having melted it in a strong fire, I found within eleven grains of eight ounces of most pure gold, so that a grain of this powder would have transmuted into very good gold, 19,156 grains of quicksilver."
Helvetius, also asserts that with a fragment of the philosopher's stone about the size of half a turnip seed, he transmuted half an ounce of lead (and some silver) into six drams and two scruples of most pure gold. This transmutation was done by himself and his wife, at home, in his own crucible, on lead cut off by himself, and the adept who gave him the elixir was not present. This episode is not mentioned apparently in The History of Chemistry.
Neither does he record the demonstrations of Dr. Price, of Guildford, in May, 1782. These eight or nine consecutive transmutations were done in the presence of several witnesses, with all the precautions the latter could devise. They are given in full detail in The Annual Register for the year 1782, published in London, 1783. It is difficult to imagine that the learned author of The History of Chemistry had not read the accounts of Helvetius and Dr. Price.
On page 2, the author cited, writes : "The professors of that art (alchemy). . .engaged themselves in a search for what was by them unattainable." Here the accent seems necessarily to fall upon the words "by them"; he does not commit himself here to the statement that the art is impossible per se.
On page 5, the following occurs : ". . .two philosophical follies of the schoolman, the search for the philosopher's stone, and for the elixir of life."
Page 10."The Chaldean Nebo corresponds with the metal mercury and the planet mercury." And on page 12: 'From the Chaldeans alchemy passed to the Egyptians," and, "Although quicksilver played an important part in alchemy, the ancient Egyptians were not acquainted with it, as it was not discovered till a much later date." In ancient Chaldean astronomy, Nebo may have been ascribed to the planet Mercury, but how it could correspond to a metal of which there is no mention until about 300 B.C., the author does not attempt to explain. In Chapter V., it will be found that such ascription was made about the fifth century.
Page 9, he remarks that "there were no mines and little fuel in Chaldea, and so this knowledge and skill must have been slowly acquired by some other nation domiciled in a metalliferous and fuel-growing country." The alchemists assert positively that no metal is an ingredient of the work (with the exception of gold or silver with which to "ferment" the elaborated "white stone"), therefore, presumably, the art of alchemy could be practiced in countries deficient in metals, so long as the necessary apparatus was obtainable.
As we know that the ancient Chaldeans and Egyptians were proficient in making vessels of glass and earthenware, we also may assume that they could and did make the laboratory apparatus they required, including crucibles. The modern critic holding—or pretending to hold—that the sophistication and adulteration of gold and silver constituted the art of alchemy, requires the presence of metalliferous loads.The alchemist required the absence—by all the tests known to him—of every kind of metal, including gold and silver and mercury. Therefore, the entire superstructure of criticism collapses, being theoretically built upon a nonexistent foundation.
As in the case of mercury and other metals so also is it in the case of sulphur. This, and other substances such as arsenic, bismuth, and salts are in alchemy analogous to the false gods set up in the Egyptian temples, where in very ancient times an apparently pure monotheism existed. (P.16 op. cit.).
On page 21, and elsewhere, "theiou apyrou" is translated as "unburnt sulphur," and therefore the distillate is called "sulphur-water." The correct translation of "a-pyrous" is "unchanged by fire"; this not only totally negatives ordinary sulphur, but also corresponds to that which the alchemists have named, in the tongues of Chaldea, Egypt, Arabia, Greece, and Rome, "sulphur incombustible." The apparatus depicted is also unsuitable for distilling sulphur, or for collecting any sulphur gases.
The true "sulphur" which was incombustible in the fire, "and valued not its martyrdom at all," has its analogy in the bush which Moses saw, which burned in the fire, but was not consumed, and in the Hebrew youths who were cast in the fiery furnace, over whom "the fire had no power. . .nor had the smell of fire passed on them." Following logically on the assumption of manipulation of sulphur, the author, on page 24, identifies the deleterious gas which issues as sulphuretted hydrogen, but he thereby proves that his sulphur was not "unchanged by fire."
On page 33 he quotes : "This is the definition of the stone which is not a stone, nor of the nature of a stone. It is a stone which is engendered every year. Its mine is found on the summit of the mountains. It is a mineral contained in sand and in rocks of all hills; it is found also in colouring matters, in the sea, in trees, in plants, in waters, etc. As soon as you have recognised it, take it and make a calx of it." (In other words, calcine it and reduce it to an oxide.) "Extract its soul, body, and spirit, separate each of these things, and place it in the special vase which is set apart for it. Mix the colours, as painters do for black, white, yellow and red, and as doctors do in their mixtures, where enter the moist and the dry, the warm and the cold, the soft and the hard, in such a way as to obtain a well-balanced mixture, favorable to bodies. This done by the aid of determined weights. Then are united in one their diverse qualities."
This well-known extract is endorsed by other alchemists; but our modern critics do not attempt to explain how either common sulphur, or any one of the ingredients they mention, fulfills, or can fulfill the conditions here set out. On pages 86, 87 and elsewhere, the statement is made that copper is the basis of much of the work detailed in Chrysopoeia, Argyropoeia and the Turba. If this were literally true, they would not be alchemic treatises.
This extract is given from Parmenides in the Turba (Lond., 1896), pages 33, 34 : "Leave, therefore, manifold and superfluous things, and take quicksilver, coagulate in the body of magnesia, in kuhul or in the sulphur which does not burn ; make the same nature white, and place it upon our copper when it becomes white. And if ye cook still more it becomes red, when if ye proceed to coction, it becomes gold, etc."
In the History of Chemistry it is given thus, the contents of the brackets being our author's interpretation or interpolation: "Take quicksilver; coagulate it with the body of magnesia (meaning magnetite, sulphide of antimony, sulphide of lead, sulphide of tin, or pyrites), or with kuhul (i.e., sulphide of antimony) or unburnt sulphur, render its nature white and put it in upon our copper, and it will whiten the copper. If you render the mercury red, the copper will redden, and if one then heats, it will become gold, etc." (Note : the ore magnetite mentioned by our author happens to be singularly free of sulphur.)
Taking the points seriatim : "Leave, therefore, manifold and superfluous things," i.e., there is no need for extraneous things, for the "mercury," the "magnesia," and the dark "copper" are but separated parts of the One thing, now purified, and about to be reunited, and not three alien things. This is emphasized by many Masters, and even in the Turba it is said by Lucas (page 41) : "For ye need not a number of things, but one thing only, which in each and every grade of your work is changed into another nature."
"Take quicksilver,"i.e., the volatile "mercury" which has been distilled from the body. "Coagulate in the body of magnesia," i.e., in the white salt, the philosophic sal ammoniac which has also come up and separated itself from the dark body (kuhul or philosophic antimony, or black lead). In both works the dark body is whitened, but particularly in the sealed glass; and it is this latter work which is here intended.
"And if ye cook still more it becomes red. In the History of Chemistry version the translation ran thus : "If you render the mercury red, the copper will redden, etc."—to the modern author this must seem curious, for first the red copper is made white, and then its redness is restored to it, by two very elaborate procedures with some one or two, or more of the things he mentions. But with the philosophic base which they call Venus or copper, it is not incongruous, for their copper is not red after the "mercury" and the "magnesia" have been separated from it, but dark or obscure.
At the risk of irksome reiteration it is necessary to affirm that competent alchemists were aware of the presence of "combustible feculent sulphur" in sulphide ores such as sulphide of antimony, sulphide of lead, sulphide of tin, and pyrites; also in the sulphurets, sulphites, and the sulphate salts, and condemned them on that account, not merely as useless, but as prejudicial to the art. They apparently regarded sulphur or brimstone as a waste by-product, in the evolutionary process. See Sendivogius' Treatise on Sulphur, and his Parable.
Most of the extracts quoted in the History of Chemistry, are of little importance, and have no authoritative value, being by unknown authors, and the attempted interpretation of any quotation is unconvincing. Very few extracts are given from the writings of men held by consent to be adepts ; and these few are quoted with insufficient reference to the context, and no reference at all to any statements by their authors or others, which qualify the surface meaning of such extracts.
The same suggestion of bias is shown in varying proportions in the other critical books reviewed in this section. For instance, the Story of Alchemy in Chapter VI, suggests that the idea of alchemy and transmutation may have arisen in a manner something like this :--A steel knife blade is immersed in a solution of sulphate of copper, and on withdrawing it, it is found to be coated with a deposit of copper. [See also Sir Edward Thorpe's "History of Chemistry." Vol. I., p.34. Watts & Co., 1921.] "What more simple than to conclude that the iron has been transformed into copper?" Also, apparently, we may assume that when the knife blade was dipped in a saturated solution of salt, and was removed with a deposit of salt upon it, the very simple alchemist, who was an expert worker in metals, precious stones, glass, pottery, etc., would be overjoyed at the discovery of an instance of evolutionary law transmuting iron into an alkaline salt. According to Roscoe a knowledge of the properties of iron vitriol can be traced at least as far back as Geber ; but in what dim ages antedating Egypt, or the Aztecs, the knowledge of copper salts began, we have in the History of Chemistry men acute and clever, in silvering, gilding, depositing one metal on another, and in the mixing of metals in fusion.
These two eminent authors do not agree as to whether the alchemists were most noted for skilled cunning or credulous simplicity. They both commit the fundamental and very elementary mistake of taking alchemic names of materials literally, though protesting that they do not. For example, on page 186, op. cit.: "Gold, silver and mercury constitute the material of the stone, after they have been prepared by art." The following lines, and page 187, prove that these names are constructed literally.
On pages 187, 188 are the following: "To speak plainly, the materials for the work were gold trichloride, silver nitrate, and mercury bichloride. This mixture was enclosed in a glass matrass called the Philosopher's egg, which was hermetically sealed by fusion of the neck." Here, then, there is no sulphur ; moreover, it is not apparently possible that such a mixture could become by turns black, iridescent, white, and lastly a permanent red. As mentioned elsewhere, the alchemists especially and specifically condemn a mixture of gold and silver "lest a monstrous lineage be begotten."
". . .the alchemists seem to have employed an oil lamp with a wick composed of amianth or flexible asbestos." Nothing could be further from the truth. Basil Valentine has said : "Our fire is a common fire, and our furnace is a common furnace." "Let no prattling sophister lead you into error with many furnaces. As our furnace is common, so is our fire common." Urbigerus in Aphorism 72 says: ". . .we have our self alone without the help of any creature living prepared them all on a common kitchen fire, as is very well known to several co-adepts our friends, who could not but admire and approve our industry." Apart from these statements is the fact that a sufficiently fierce heat could not be obtained for the final stage, by means of an oil lamp. The modern critics are vitally at variance with each other, and none touches the hem of the mystery.
The alchemist prepared gold chloride in order to get gold oxide; or, according to Roscoe, to obtain gold in a final state of division. It is one of these latter—and not the trichloride—which they used in preparing the ferment. As regards the silver nitrate , the alchemists definitely and by name condemn the dissolving of silver in aq. fortis (or nitric acid), alleging that this is not a true philosophic solution, but rather a process which destroys the "radical humidity," and is comparable rather to melting by fire than to a natural process. The acid, if used at all, was used (as aq. regia was employed for gold) to enable them to get the silver oxide, or silver in a fine state of division.
As regards corrosive sublimate, no mercury, or salt of mercury went into the philosopher's egg. The modern author's remarks tempt one to diverge very widely from the scope of this book, but limits of space prevent; it must suffice to draw attention to the fact—the very suggestive fact—that none of these modern critics, be he humorous, sarcastic, or more condescendingly pitiful than angry, attempts to prove that metallic evolution is even probably impossible, having regard to chemical laws as now stated or accepted.
The History of Chemistry states a well-known fact that this art came to Western Europe from Egypt, through the Arabs and Moors. As is stated above: "Although quicksilver played an important part in alchemy, the ancient Egyptians were not acquainted with it, as it was not discovered till a much later date." This being so, it follows that the "Mercury" used in Egypt before hydrargyrum and its salts were known, is the same "Mercury" mentioned by all alchemists, both previous to and subsequent to the period of Egyptian alchemy.
I append this pertinent extract from Hydropyrographum Hermeticum: "Moreover, the philosophers do say that there is no coming to a good end until gold and silver be joined together in one body. Here, my son, thou must understand Luna metaphorically, and not according to the letter,. . .by Luna is understood mercury or the prime matter,. . .and not mercury vive, as the sophisters suppose. For the first matter of metals is not mercury vive. I tell thee, my son, unless the body of Sol be sowed in its proper soil, your labour is in vain, and it produceth no fruit." This agrees with the sayings of the Masters; consequently, neither gold nor mercury is in the sealed glass with the red stone; using these names of materials in their everyday sense. A quotation from Bernard Trevisan's Epistle to Thomas of Bononia "in which," writes Eirenaeus, "let me seriously profess I received the main light in this hidden secret" here follows. It deals with metalline salts, such as nitrate of silver, chloride of gold, and others: "For example, fools draw corrosive water out of inferior minerals, into which they cast the species of metals and corrode them. For they think that they are therefore dissolved with a natural solution, which solution truly requires a permanency of the dissolver and dissolved together, that a new species might result from both the masculine and feminine seed. Yet thus they think they dissolve (mistaking Nature) but dissolve not; for the aqua fortis being extracted, the body becometh meltable as before, and that water abides not with nor subsists in the body as its radical moisture. The bodies indeed are corroded, they are so much more estranged from a metallic kind. These solutions, therefore, are not the foundation of the Art of Transmutation but the impostures rather of sophistical alchymists who think that this sacred Art is hid in them." He adds that another sophistic solution is that of melting by the force of fire. The third and philosophical solution is by the mixture of their mercury with the sulphur (from which it, the mercury, had been previously separated) so that these two purified and re-conjoined parts might corrupt and putrefy together-as in the analogy of a grain of corn in the earth—and producing a living, growing thing.
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