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ALCHYMY, PHILOSOPHER'S STONE,
ELIXIR OF LIFE.
The alchymical processes, and their wonderful or fatal results, attributed to Wayland Smith and Demetrius Alasco, in the novel of Kenilworth, suggest the propriety of offering a few notices of the state of this branch of false science, as it presented itself in England during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.
The accumulation of riches, the restoration of health, and the prolongation of life, have always been, and will ever be, with the „majority of mankind, objects of perpetual "thought, and ardent pursuit. Hence it happened, that in the very infancy of
natural philosophy, one of its most important desiderata was to extract, from the products of the mineral and vegetable world, substances that should be available to the attainment of these highly valuable ends. The crucible and the alembic were set to work; and that addition was made to the other vain pursuits of man, which the old Latin proverb has so well defined, ars sine arte, cujus principium est mentiri, medium laborure, et finis mendicare ; an art and no art; whose beginning is a lie, whose progress is toil, and whose end is beggary. To determine the æra of the commencement of this delusion is, perhaps, impossible; and would be useless, were it practicable. The period when an error stole into existence is of little importance. The history of its growth and effects; and the time, causes, and means of its extinction, are the only circumstances connected with the knowledge of it, which can improve or gratify the mind. But, if it were thought worth while to throw away a moment on its origin, we should say, it seems prohable that alchymy, with all its tedious processes, and wild expectations,
is to be attributed to the inventive genius, and warm fancy, of the Eastern nations. We, at least, find it flourishing, in full maturity, among the superstitious Egyptians, at the close of the third century; when the Emperor Dioclesian, either a believer in, or a despiser of, it, caused a diligent enquiry to be made o for all the ancient books which treated of the admirable art of making gold and silvers and, without pity, committed them to the
The time, however, when alchymy became properly an art, by being reduced to written rules, could not be of very remote antiquity, since, as Mr. Gibbon goes on to
* John of Antioch, from whoin Gibbon quotes this passage, goes on to say, that Dioclesian was apprehensive lest the opulence of the Egyptians should inspire them with confidence to rebel against the empire. “But," observes the historian," if Dioclesian had been convinced of the reality of that valuable art, far from extinguishing the memory, he would have converted the operation of it to the benefit of the public revenue. It is much more likely that his good sense discovered to him the folly of such magnificent pretensions, and that he was desirous of preserving the reason and fortunes of his subjects from the mischievous pursuit.- Decline and Fall Roman Empire, v. ii. p. 137.
remark, the ancient books (just mentioned) so liberally ascribed to Pythagoras, to Solomon, or to Hermes, were the pious frauds of more recent adepts. The Greeks were inattentive either to the use or the abuse of chemistry. In that immense register where Pliny has deposited the discoveries, the arts, and the errors of mankind, there is not the least mention of the transmutation of metals; and the persecution of Dioclesian is the first authentic event in the history of alchymy. The conquest of Egypt by the Arabs diffused that vain science over the globe. Congenial to the avarice of the human heart, it was studied in China, as in Europe, with equal eagerness, and with equal success.
The darkness of the middle ages ensured a favourable reception to every tale of wonder; and the revival of learning gave new vigour to hope, and suggested more specious arts of deception.
In this advanced stage of its progress, alchymy found its way into Britain; and, long before the reign of Queen Elizabeth, an ardent affection for its delusions lay at the bottom of the heart of many of our most