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IS the transmutation of base metals into gold possible? Is the idea one at which the learned of the modern world can afford to scoff? Alchemy was more than a speculative art: it was also an operative art. Since the time of the immortal Hermes, alchemists have asserted (and not without substantiating evidence) that they could manufacture gold from tin, silver, lead, and mercury. That the galaxy of brilliant philosophic and scientific minds who, over a period of two thousand years, affirmed the actuality of metallic transmutation and multiplication, could be completely sane and rational on all other problems of philosophy and science, yet hopelessly mistaken on this one point, is untenable. Nor is it reasonable that the hundreds declaring to have seen and performed transmutations of metals could all have been dupes, imbeciles, or liars.
Those assuming that all alchemists were of unsound mentality would be forced to put in this category nearly all the philosophers and scientists of the ancient and mediæval worlds. Emperors, princes, priests, and common townsfolk have witnessed the apparent miracle of metallic metamorphosis. In the face of existing testimony, anyone is privileged to remain unconvinced, but the scoffer elects to ignore evidence worthy of respectful consideration. Many great alchemists and Hermetic philosophers occupy an honored niche in the Hall of Fame, while their multitudinous critics remain obscure. To list all these sincere seekers after Nature's great arcanum is impossible, but a few will suffice to acquaint the reader with the superior types of intellect who interested themselves in this abstruse subject.
Among the more prominent names are those of Thomas Norton, Isaac of Holland, Basil Valentine (the supposed discoverer of antimony), Jean de Meung, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Quercetanus Gerber (the Arabian who brought the knowledge of alchemy to Europe through his writings), Paracelsus, Nicholas Flarnmel, John Frederick Helvetius, Raymond Lully, Alexander Sethon, Michael Sendivogius, Count Bernard of Treviso, Sir George Ripley, Picus de Mirandola, John Dee, Henry Khunrath, Michael Maier, Thomas Vaughan, J. B. von Helmont, John Heydon, Lascaris, Thomas Charnock, Synesius (Bishop of Ptolemais), Morieu, the Comte di Cagliostro, and the Comte de St.-Germain. There are legends to the effect that King Solomon and Pythagoras were alchemists and that the former manufactured by alchemical means the gold used in his temple.
Albert Pike takes sides with the alchemical philosophers by declaring that the gold of the Hermetists was a reality. He says:
"The Hermetic science, like all the real sciences, is mathematically demonstrable. Its results, even material, are as rigorous as that of a correct equation. The Hermetic Gold is not only a true dogma, a light without Shadow, a Truth without alloy of falsehood; it is also a material gold, real, pure, the most precious that can be found in the mines of the earth."
So much for the Masonic angle.
William and Mary jointly ascended the throne of England in 1689, at which time alchemists must have abounded in the kingdom, for during the first year of their reign they repealed an Act made by King Henry IV in which that sovereign declared the multiplying of metals to be a crime against the crown. In Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom's Collection of Alchemical Manuscripts is a handwritten copy of the Act passed by William and Mary, copied from Chapter 30 of Statutes at Large for the first year of their reign. The Act reads as follows:
"An Act to repeal the Statute made in the 5th year of King Henry IV, late king of England, [wherein] it was enacted, among other things, in these words, or to this effect, namely: 'that none from henceforth should use to multiply Gold or Silver or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do they shall incur the pain of felony.' And whereas, since the making of the said statute, divers persons have by their study, industry and learning, arrived to great skill & perfection in the art of melting and refining of metals, and otherwise improving and multiplying them and their ores, which very much abound in this realm, and extracting gold and silver our of the same, but dare not to exercise their said skill within this realm, for fear of falling under the penalty of the said statute, but exercise the said art in foreign parts, to the great loss and detriment of this realm: Be it therefore enacted by the King's and Queen's most excellent Majesties, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal and Commons in this present parliament assembled, that from henceforth the aforesaid branch, article, or sentence, contained in the said act, and every word, matter and thing contained in the said branch or sentence, shall be repealed, annulled, revoked, and for ever made void, any thing in the said act to the contrary in any wise whatsoever notwithstanding. Provided always, and be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all the gold and silver that shall be extracted by the aforesaid art of melting or refining of metals, and otherwise improving and multiplying of them and their ores, as before set forth, be from henceforth employed for no other use or uses whatsoever but for the increase of monies; and that the place hereby appointed for the disposal thereof shall be their Majesties mint, within the Tower of London, at which place they are to receive the full and true value of their gold and silver, so procured, from time to time, according to the assay and fineness thereof, and so for any greater or less weight, and that none of that metal of gold and silver so refined and procured be permitted to be used or disposed of in any other place or places within their Majesties dominions."
After this repealing measure had become effective, William and Mary encouraged the further study of alchemy.
Dr. Franz Hartmann has collected reliable evidence concerning four different: alchemists who transmuted base metals into gold not once but many times. One of these accounts concerns a monk of the Order of St. Augustine named Wenzel Seiler, who discovered a small amount of mysterious red powder in his convent. In the presence of Emperor Leopold I, King of Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia, he transmuted quantities of tin into gold. Among other things which he dipped into his mysterious essence was a large silver medal. That part of the medal which came in contact with the gold-producing substance was transmuted into the purest quality of the more precious metal. The rest remained silver. With regard to this medal, Dr. Hartmann writes:
"The most indisputable proof (if appearances can prove anything) of the possibility of transmuting base metals into gold, may be seen by everyone who visits Vienna; it being a medal preserved in the Imperial treasury chamber, and it is stated that this medal, consisting originally of silver, has been partly transformed into gold, by alchemical means, by the same Wenzel Seiler who was afterwards made a knight by the Emperor Leopold I. and given the title Wenzeslaus Ritter von Reinburg. "(In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom.)
Space limitations preclude a lengthy discussion of the alchemists. A brief sketch of the lives of four should serve to show the general principles on which they worked, the method by which they obtained their knowledge, and the use which they made of it. These four were Grand Masters of this secret science; and the stories of
From The Complete Writings of Paracelsus, of Hohenheim.
In his Biographia Antiqua, Francis Barrett appends to the name of Paracelsus the following titles of distinction: "The Prince of Physicians and Philosophers by Fire; Grand Paradoxical Physician; The Trismegistus of Switzerland; First Reformer of Chymical Philosophy; Adept in Alchymy, Cabala, and Magic; Nature's Faithful Secretary; Master of the Elixir of Life and The Philosopher's Stone," and the "Great Monarch of Chymical Secrets"
their wanderings and strivings, as recorded by their own pens and by contemporaneous disciples of the Hermetic art, are as fascinating as any romance of fiction.
The most famous of alchemical and Hermetic philosophers was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. This man, who called himself Paracelsus, declared that some day all the doctors of Europe would turn from the other schools and, following him, revere him above every other physician. The accepted date of the birth of Paracelsus is December 17, 1493. He was an only child. Both his father and mother were interested in medicine and chemistry. His father was a physician and his mother the superintendent of a hospital. While still a youth, Paracelsus became greatly interested in the writings of Isaac of Holland, and determined to reform the medical science of his day.
When twenty years old he began a series of travels which continued for about twelve years. He visited many European countries, including Russia. It is possible that he penetrated into Asia. It was in Constantinople that the great secret of the Hermetic arts was bestowed upon him by Arabian adepts. His knowledge of the Nature spirits and the inhabitants of the invisible worlds he probably secured from the Brahmins of India with whom he came in contact either directly or through their disciples. He became an army physician, and his understanding and skill brought him great success.
Upon his return to Germany, he began his long-dreamed-of reformation of the medical arts and sciences. He was opposed on every hand and criticized unmercifully. His violent temper and tremendously strong personality undoubtedly precipitated many storms upon his head which might have been avoided had he been of a less caustic disposition. He flayed the apothecaries, asserting that they did not use the proper ingredients in their prescriptions and did not consider the needs of their patients, desiring only to collect exorbitant fees for their concoctions.
The remarkable cures which Paracelsus effected only made his enemies hate him more bitterly, for they could not duplicate the apparent miracles which he wrought. He not only treated the more common diseases of his day but is said to have actually cured leprosy, cholera, and cancer. His friends claimed for him that he all but raised the dead. His systems of healing were so heterodox, however, that slowly but surely his enemies overwhelmed him and again and again forced him to leave the fields of his labors and seek refuge where he was not known.
There is much controversy concerning the personality of Paracelsus. That he had an irascible disposition there is no doubt. His barred for physicians and for women amounted to a mania; for them he had nothing but abuse. As far as can be learned, there was never a love affair in his life. His peculiar appearance and immoderate system of living were always held against him by his adversaries. It is believed that his physical abnormalities may have been responsible for much of the bitterness against society which he carried with him throughout all his intolerant and tempestuous life.
His reputed intemperance brought upon him still more persecution, for it was asserted that even during the time of his professorship in the University of Basel he was seldom sober. Such an accusation is difficult to understand in view of the marvelous mental clarity for which he was noted at all times. The vast amount of writing which he accomplished (the Strassburg Edition of his collected works is in three large volumes, each containing several hundred pages) is a monumental contradiction of the tales regarding his excessive use of alcoholics.
No doubt many of the vices of which he is accused were sheer inventions by his enemies, who, not satisfied with hiring assassins to murder him, sought to besmirch his memory after they had revengefully ended his life. The manner in which Paracelsus met his death is uncertain, but: the most credible account is that he died as the indirect result of a scuffle with a number of assassins who had been hired by some of his professional enemies to make away with the one who had exposed their chicanery.
Few manuscripts are extant in the handwriting of Paracelsus, for he dictated the majority of his works to his disciples, who wrote them down. Professor John Maxson Stillman, of Stanford University, pays the following tribute to his memory:
"Whatever be the final judgment as to the relative importance of Paracelsus in the upbuilding of medical science and practice, it must be recognized that he entered upon his career at Basel with the zeal and the self-assurance of one who believed himself inspired with a great truth, and destined to effect a great advance in the science and practice of medicine. By nature he was a keen and open-minded observer of whatever came under his observation, though probably also not a very critical analyst of the observed phenomena. He was evidently an unusually self-reliant and independent thinker, though the degree of originality in his thought may be a matter of legitimate differences of opinion. Certainly once having, from whatever combination of influences, made up his mind to reject the sacredness of the authority of Aristotle, Galen and Avicenna, and having found what to his mind was a satisfactory substitute for the ancient dogmas in his own modification of the neo-Platonic philosophy, he did not hesitate to burn his ships behind him.
"Having cut loose from the dominant Galenism of his time, he determined to preach and teach that the basis of the medical science of the future should be the study of nature, observation of the patient, experiment and experience, and not the infallible dogmas of authors long dead. Doubtless in the pride and self-confidence of his youthful enthusiasm he did not rightly estimate the tremendous force of conservatism against which he directed his assaults. If so, his experience in Basel surely undeceived him. From that time on he was to be a wanderer again, sometimes in great poverty, sometimes in moderate comfort, but manifestly disillusioned as to the immediate success of his campaign though never in doubt as to its ultimate success--for to his mind his new theories and practice of medicine were at one with the forces of nature, which were the expression of God's will, and eventually they must prevail."
This strange man, his nature a mass of contradictions, his stupendous genius shining like a star through the philosophic and scientific darkness of mediæval Europe, struggling against the jealousy of his colleagues as well as against the irascibility of his own nature, fought for the good of the many against the domination of the few. He was the first man to write scientific books in the language of the common people so that all could read them.
Even in death Paracelsus found no rest. Again and again his bones were dug up and reinterred in another place. The slab of marble over his grave bears the following inscription:
"Here lies buried Philip Theophrastus the famous Doctor of Medicine who cured Wounds, Leprosy, Gout, Dropsy and other incurable Maladies of the Body, with wonderful Knowledge and gave his Goods to be divided and distributed to the Poor. In the Year 1541 on the 24th day of September he exchanged Life for Death. To the Living Peace, to the Sepulchred Eternal Rest."
A. M. Stoddart, in her Life of Paracelsus, gives a remarkable testimonial of the love which the masses had for the great physician. Referring to his tomb, she writes:
"To this day the poor pray there. Hohenheim's memory has 'blossomed in the dust' to sainthood, for the poor have canonized him. When cholera threatened Salzburg in 1830, the people made a pilgrimage to his monument and prayed him to avert it from their homes. The dreaded scourge passed away from them and raged in Germany and the rest of Austria."
From Jovius' Vitae Illustrium Virorum.
Albert de Groot was born about 1206 and died at the age of 74. It has been said of him that he was "magnus in magia, major in philosophia, maximus in theologia." He was a member of the Dominican order and the mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas in alchemy and philosophy. Among other positions of dignity occupied by Albertus Magnus was that of Bishop of Regensburg. He was beatified in 1622. Albertus was an Aristotelian philosopher, an astrologer, and a profound student of medicine and physics. During his youth, he was considered of deficient mentality, but his since service and devotion were rewarded by a vision in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him and bestowed upon him great philosophical and intellectual powers. Having become master of the magical sciences, Albertus began the construction of a curious automaton, which he invested with the powers of speech and thought. The Android, as it was called, was composed of metals and unknown substances chosen according to the stars and endued with spiritual qualities by magical formulæ and invocations, and the labor upon it consumed over thirty years. St. Thomas Aquinas, thinking the device to be a diabolical mechanism, destroyed it, thus frustrating the labor of a lifetime. In spite of this act, Albertus Magnus left to St. Thomas Aquinas his alchemical formulæ, including (according to legend) the secret of the Philosopher's Stone.
On one occasion Albertus Magnus invited William II, Count of Holland and King of the Romans, to a garden party in midwinter. The ground was covered with snow, but Albertus, had prepare a sumptuous banquet in the open grounds of his monastery at Cologne. The guests were amazed at the imprudence of the philosopher, but as they sat down to eat Albertus, uttered a few words, the snow disappeared, the garden was filled with flowers and singing birds, and the air was warm with the breezes of summer. As soon as the feast was over, the snow returned, much to the amazement of the assembled nobles. (For details, see The Lives of Alchemystical Philosophers.)
It was supposed that one early teacher of Paracelsus was a mysterious alchemist who called himself Solomon Trismosin. Concerning this person nothing is known save that after some years of wandering he secured the formula of transmutation and claimed to have made vast amounts of gold. A beautifully illuminated manuscript of this author, dated 1582 and called Splendor Solis, is in the British Museum. Trismosin claimed to have lived to the age of 150 as the result of his knowledge of alchemy. One very significant statement appears in his Alchemical Wanderings, which work is supposed to narrate his search for the Philosopher's Scone: "Study what thou art, whereof thou art a part, what thou knowest of this art, this is really what thou art. All that is without thee also is within, thus wrote Trismosin."
This most famous of all the Spanish alchemists was born about the year 1235. His father was seneschal to James the First of Aragon, and young Raymond was brought up in the court surrounded by the temptations and profligacy abounding in such places. He was later appointed to the position which his father had occupied. A wealthy marriage ensured Raymond's financial position, and he lived the life of a grandee.
One of the most beautiful women at: the court of Aragon was Donna Ambrosia Eleanora Di Castello, whose virtue and beauty had brought her great renown. She was at that time married and was not particularly pleased to discover that young Lully was rapidly developing a passion for her. Wherever she went Raymond followed, and at last over a trivial incident he wrote some very amorous verses to her, which produced an effect quite different from what he had expected. He received a message inviting him to visit the lady. He responded with alacrity. She told him that it was only fair that he should behold more of the beauty concerning which he wrote such appealing poems and, drawing aside part of her garments, disclosed that one side of her body was nearly eaten away by a cancer. Raymond never recovered from the shock. It turned the entire course of his life. He renounced the frivolities of the court and became a recluse.
Sometime afterwards while doing penance for his worldly sins a vision appeared to him in which Christ told him to follow in the direction in which He should lead. Later the vision was repeated. Hesitating no longer, Raymond divided his property among his family and retired to a hut on the side of a hill, where he devoted himself to the study of Arabic, that he might go forth and convert the infidels. After six years in this retreat he set out with a Mohammedan servant, who, when he learned that Raymond was about to attack the faith of his people, buried his knife in his master's back. Raymond refused to allow his would-be assassin to be executed, but later the man strangled himself in prison.
When Raymond regained his health he became a teacher of the Arabic language to those who intended traveling in the Holy Land. It was while so engaged that he came in contact: with Arnold of Villa Nova, who taught him the principles or alchemy. As a result of this training, Raymond learned the secret of the transmutation and multiplication of metals. His life of wandering continued, and during the course of it he arrived at Tunis, where he began to debate with the Mohammedan teachers, and nearly lost his life as the result of his fanatical attacks upon their religion. He was ordered to leave the country and never to return again upon pain of death. Notwithstanding their threats he made a second visit to Tunis, but the inhabitants instead of killing him merely deported him to Italy.
An unsigned article appearing in Household Words, No. 273, a magazine conducted by Charles Dickens, throws considerable light on Lully's alchemical ability.
"Whilst at Vienna he [Lully] received flattering letters from Edward the Second, King of England, and from Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, entreating him to visit them. He had also, in the course of his travels, met with John Cremer, Abbot of Westminster, with whom he formed a strong friendship; and it was more to please him than the king, that Raymond consented to go to England. [A tract by John Cremer appears in the Hermetic Museum, but there is no record in the annals of Westminster of anyone by that name.] Cremer had an intense desire to learn the last great secret of alchemy--to make the powder of transmutation--and Raymond, with all his friendship, had never disclosed it. Cremer, however, set to work very cunningly; he was not long in discovering the object that was nearest to Raymond's heart--the conversion of the infidels. He told the king wonderful stories of the gold Lully had the art to make; and he worked upon Raymond by the hope that King Edward would be easily induced to raise a crusade against the Mahommedans, if he had the means.
"Raymond had appealed so often to popes and kings that he had lost all faith in them; nevertheless, as a last hope, he accompanied his friend Cremer to England. Cremer lodged him in his abbey, treating him with distinction; and there Lully at last instructed him in the powder, the secret of which Cremer had so long desired to know. When the powder was perfected, Cremer presented him to the king, who received him as a man may be supposed to receive one who could give him boundless riches. Raymond made only one condition; that the gold he made should not be expended upon the luxuries of the court or upon a war with any Christian king; and that Edward himself should go in person with an army against the infidels. Edward promised everything and anything.
"Raymond had apartments assigned him in the Tower, and there he tells us he transmuted fifty thousand pounds weight of quicksilver, lead, and tin into pure gold, which was coined at the mint into six million of nobles, each worth about three pounds sterling at the present day. Some of the pieces said to have been coined out of this gold are still to be found in antiquarian collections. [While desperate attempts have been made to disprove these statements, the evidence is still about equally divided.] To Robert Bruce he sent a little work entitled Of the Art of Transmuting Metals. Dr. Edmund Dickenson relates that when the cloister which Raymond occupied at Westminster was removed, the workmen found some of the powder, with which they enriched themselves.
"During Lully's residence in England, he became the friend of Roger Bacon. Nothing, of course, could be further from King Edward's thoughts than to go on a crusade. Raymond's apartments in the Tower were only an honorable prison; and he soon perceived how matters were. He declared that Edward would meet with nothing but misfortune and misery for his breach of faith. He made his escape from England in 1315, and set off once more to preach to the infidels. He was now a very old man, and none of his friends could ever hope to see his face again.
"He went first to Egypt, then to Jerusalem, and thence to Tunis a third time. There he at last met with the martyrdom he had so often braved. The people fell upon him and stoned him. Some Genoese merchants carried away his body, in which they discerned some feeble signs of life. They carried him on board their vessel; but, though he lingered awhile, he died as they came in sight of Majorca, on the 28th of June, 1315, at the age of eighty-one. He was buried with great honour in his family chapel at St. Ulma, the viceroy and all the principal nobility attending."
In the latter part of the fourteenth century there lived in Paris one whose business was that of illuminating manuscripts and preparing deeds and documents. To Nicholas Flammel the world is indebted for its knowledge of a most remarkable volume, which he bought for a paltry sum from some bookdealer with whom his profession of scrivener brought him in contact. The story of this curious document, called the Book of Abraham the Jew, is best narrated
TITLE PAGE OF ALCHEMICAL TRACT ATTRIBUTED TO JOHN CREMER.
From Musæum Hermeticum Reformatum et Amplificatum.
John Cremer, the mythical Abbot of Westminster, is an interesting personality in the alchemical imbroglio of the fourteenth century. As it is not reasonably certain that m abbot by such a name ever occupied the See of Westminster, the question naturally arises, "Who was the person concealing his identity under the Pseudonym of John Cremer?" Fictitious characters such as John Cremer illustrate two important practices of mediæval alchemists: (1) many persons of high political or religious rank were secretly engaged in Hermetic chemical research but, fearing persecution and ridicule, published their findings under various pseudonyms; (2) for thousands of years it was the practice of those initiates who possessed the true key to the great Hermetic arcanum to perpetuate their wisdom by creating imaginary persons, involving them in episodes of contemporaneous history and thus establishing these beings as prominent members of society--in some cases even fabricating complete genealogies to attain that end. The names by which these fictitious characters were known revealed nothing to the uniformed. To the initiated, however, they signified that the personality to which they were assigned had no existence other than a symbolic one. These initiated chroniclers carefully concealed their arcanum in the lives, thoughts, words. and acts ascribed to these imaginary persons and thus safely transmitted through the ages the deepest secrets of occultism as writings which to the unconversant were nothing more than biographies.
in his own words as preserved in his Hieroglyphical Figures: "Whilst therefore, I Nicholas Flammel, Notary, after the decease of my parents, got my living at our art of writing, by making inventories, dressing accounts, and summing up the expenses of tutors and pupils, there fell into my hands for the sum of two florins, a guilded book, very old and large. It was not of paper, nor of parchment, as other books be, but was only made of delicate rinds (as it seemed to me) of tender young trees. The cover of it was of brass, well bound, all engraven with letters, or strange figures; and for my part I think they might well be Greek characters, or some such like ancient language. Sure I am. I could not read them, and I know well they were not notes nor letters of the Latin nor of the Gaul, for of them we understand a little.
"As for that which was within it, the leaves of bark or rind, were engraven and with admirable diligence written, with a point of iron, in fair and neat Latin letters colored. It contained thrice seven leaves, for so were they counted in the top of the leaves, and always every seventh leaf there was painted a virgin and serpent swallowing her up. In the second seventh, a cross where a serpent was crucified; and the last seventh, there were painted deserts, or wildernesse, in the midst whereof ran many fair fountains, from whence there issued out a number of serpents, which ran up and down here and there. Upon the first of the leaves, was written in great capital letters of gold, Abraham the Jew, Prince, Priest, Levite, Astrologer, and Philosopher, to the Nation of the Jews, by the Wrath of God dispersed among the Gauls, sendeth Health. After this it was filled with great execrations and curses (with this word Maranatha, which was often repeated there) against every person that should cast his eyes upon it, if he were not Sacrificer or Scribe.
"He that sold me this book knew not what it was worth nor more than I when I bought it; I believe it had been stolen or taken from the miserable Jews, or found in some part of the ancient place of their abode. Within the book, in the second leaf, he comforted his nation, counselling them to fly vices, and above all idolatry, attending with sweet patience the coming of the Messias, Who should vanquish all the kings of the earth and should reign with His people in glory eternally. Without doubt this had been some very wise and understanding man.
"In the third leaf, and in all the other writings that followed, to help his captive nation to pay their tributes unto the Roman emperors, and to do other things, which I will not speak of, he taught them in common words the transmutation of metals; he painted the vessels by the sides, and he advertised them of the colors, and of all the rest, saving of the first agent, of the which he spake not a word, but only (as he said) in the fourth and fifth leaves entire he painted it, and figured it with very great cunning and workman ship: for although it was well and intelligibly figured and painted, yet no man could ever have been able to understand it, without being well skilled in their Cabala, which goeth by tradition, and without having well studied their books.
"The fourth and fifth leaves therefore, were without any writing, all full of fair figures enlightened, or as it were enlightened, for the work was very exquisite. First he painted a young man with wings at his ancles, having in his hand a Caducean rod, writhen about with two serpents, wherewith he struck upon a helmet which covered his head. He seemed to my small judgment, to be the God Mercury of the pagans: against him there came running and flying with open wings, a great old man, who upon his head had an hour glass fastened, and in his hand a book (or syrhe) like death, with the which, in terrible and furious manner, he would have cut off the feet of Mercury. On the other side of the fourth leaf, he painted a fair flower on the top of a very high mountain which was sore shaken with the North wind; it had the foot blue, the flowers white and red, the leaves shining like fine gold: and round about it the dragons and griffons of the North made their nests and abode.
"On the fifth leaf there was a fair rose tree flowered in the midst of a sweet garden, climbing up against a hollow oak; at the foot whereof boiled a fountain of most white water, which ran headlong down into the depths, notwithstanding it first passed among the hands of infinite people, who digged in the earth seeking for it; but because they were blind, none of them knew it, except here and there one who considered the weight. On the last side of the fifth leaf there was a king with a great fauchion, who made to be killed in his presence by some soldiers a great multitude of little infants, whose mothers wept at the feet of the unpitiful soldiers: the blood of which infants was afterwards by other soldiers gathered up, and put in a great vessel, wherein the sun and the moon came to bathe themselves.
"And because that this history did represent the more part of that of the innocents slain by Herod, and that in this book I learned the greatest part of the art, this was one of the causes why I placed in their church-yard these Hieroglyphic Symbols of this secret science. And thus you see that which was in the first five leaves.
"I will not represent unto you that which was written in good and intelligible Latin in all the other written leaves, for God would punish me, because I should commit a greater wickedness, than he who (as it is said) wished that all the men of the World had but one head that he might cut it off with one blow. Having with me therefore this fair book, I did nothing else day nor night, but study upon it, understanding very well all the operations that it showed, but not knowing with what matter I should begin, which made me very heavy and solitary, and caused me to fetch many a sigh. My wife Perrenella, whom I loved as myself, and had lately married was much astonished at this, comforting me, and earnestly demanding, if she could by any means deliver me from this trouble. I could not possibly hold my tongue, but told her all, and showed this fair book, whereof at the same instant that she saw it, she became as much enamoured as myself, taking extreme pleasure to behold the fair cover, gravings, images, and portraits, whereof notwithstanding she understood as little as I: yet it was a great comfort to me to talk with her, and to entertain myself, what we should do to have the interpretation of them."
Nicholas Flammel spent many years studying the mysterious book. He even painted the pictures from it all over the walls of his house and made numerous copies which he showed to the learned men with whom he came in contact, but none could explain their secret significance. At last he determined to go forth in quest of an adept, or wise man, and after many wanderings he met a physician--by name Master Canches--who was immediately interested in the diagrams and asked to see the original book. They started forth together for Paris, and or, the way the physician adept explained many of the principles of the hieroglyphics to Flammel, but before they reached their journey's end Master Canches was taken ill and died. Flammel buried him at Orleans, but having meditated deeply on the information he had secured during their brief acquaintance, he was able, with the assistance of his wife, to work out the formula for transmuting base metals into gold. He performed the experiment several times with perfect success, and before his death caused a number of hieroglyphic figures to be painted upon an arch of St. Innocent's churchyard in Paris, wherein he concealed the entire formula as it had been revealed to him from the Book of Abraham the Jew.
Of all those who sought for the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher's Scone, few passed through the chain of disappointments that beset Count Bernard of Treviso, who was born in Padua in 1406 and died in 1490. His search for the Philosopher's Stone and the secret of the transmutation of metals began when he was but fourteen years of age. He spent not only a lifetime but also a fortune in his quest. Count Bernard went from one alchemist and philosopher to another, each of whom unfolded some pet theorem which he eagerly accepted and experimented with but always without the desired result. His family believed him to be mad and declared that he was disgracing his house by his experiments, which were rapidly reducing him to a state of penury. He traveled in many countries, hoping that in distant places he would find wise men capable of assisting him. At last as he was approaching his seventy-sixth year, he was rewarded with success. The great secrets of the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher's Stone, and the transmutation of metals were revealed to him. He wrote a little book describing the results of his labors, and while he lived only a few years to enjoy the fruitage of his discovery he was thoroughly satisfied that the treasure he had found was worth the lifetime spent in search of it. An example of the industry and perseverance displayed by him is to be found in one of the processes which some foolish pretender coaxed him to attempt and which resulted in his spending twenty years calcining egg shells and nearly an equal period distilling alcohol and other substances. In the history of alchemical research there never was a more patient and persevering disciple of the Great Arcanum.
Bernard declared the process of dissolution, accomplished not with fire but with mercury, to be the supreme secret of alchemy,
THE SYMBOLS OF ABRAHAM THE JEW.
From Flammel's Hieroglyphical Figures.
Robert H. Fryar, in a footnote to his reprint of the Hieroglyphical Figures by Nicholas Flammel, says: "One thing which seems to prove the reality of this story beyond dispute, is, that this very book of Abraham the Jew, with the annotations of 'Flammel,' who wrote from the instructions he received from this physician, was actually in the hands of Cardinal Richelieu, as Borel was told by the Count de Cabrines, who saw and examined it."
Next: The Theory and Practice of Alchemy: Part One