Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions
Charles Mackay

Part 1 out of 5




"Il est bon de connaitre les delires de l'esprit humain.
Chaque peuple a ses folies plus ou moins grossieres."






THE ALCHYMISTS; or, Searchers for the Philosopher's Stone
and the Water of Life

PART I. -- History of Alchymy from the earliest periods to the
Fifteenth Century. -- Pretended Antiquity of the Art. -- Geber. --
Alfarabi. -- Avicenna. -- Albertus Magnus. -- Thomas Aquinas. --
Artephius. -- Alain de Lisle. -- Arnold de Villeneuve. -- Pietro
d'Apone. -- Raymond Lulli. -- Roger Bacon. -- Pope John XXII. -- Jean
de Meung.-- Nicholas Flamel. -- George Ripley. -- Basil Valentine. --
Bernard of Treves. -- Trithemius. -- The Marechal de Rays. -- Jacques
Coeur. -- Inferior Adepts.

PART II.--Progress of the Infatuation during the Sixteenth and
Seventeenth Centuries. -- Augurello. -- Cornelius Agrippa. --
Paracelsus. -- George Agricola. -- Denys Zachaire. -- Dr. Dee and
Edward Kelly. -- The Cosmopolite. -- Sendivogius. -- The Rosicrucians.
-- Michael Mayer. -- Robert Fludd. -- Jacob Bohmen. -- John Heydn. --
Joseph Francis Borri. -- Alchymical Writers of the Seventeenth
Century. -- De Lisle. -- Albert Aluys. -- Count de St. Germains. --
Cagliostro. -- Present State of the Science.




Dissatisfaction with his lot seems to be the characteristic of man
in all ages and climates. So far, however, from being an evil, as at
first might be supposed, it has been the great civiliser of our race;
and has tended, more than anything else, to raise us above the
condition of the brutes. But the same discontent which has been the
source of all improvement, has been the parent of no small progeny of
follies and absurdities; to trace these latter is the object of the
present volume. Vast as the subject appears, it is easily reducible
within such limits as will make it comprehensive without being
wearisome, and render its study both instructive and amusing.

Three causes especially have excited our discontent; and, by
impelling us to seek for remedies for the irremediable, have
bewildered us in a maze of madness and error. These are death, toil,
and ignorance of the future -- the doom of man upon this sphere, and
for which he shows his antipathy by his love of life, his longing for
abundance, and his craving curiosity to pierce the secrets of the days
to come. The first has led many to imagine that they might find means
to avoid death, or, failing in this, that they might, nevertheless, so
prolong existence as to reckon it by centuries instead of units. From
this sprang the search, so long continued and still pursued, for the
elixir vitae, or water of life, which has led thousands to pretend to
it and millions to believe in it. From the second sprang the absurd
search for the philosopher's stone, which was to create plenty by
changing all metals into gold; and from the third, the false sciences
of astrology, divination, and their divisions of necromancy,
chiromancy, augury, with all their train of signs, portents, and

In tracing the career of the erring philosophers, or the wilful
cheats, who have encouraged or preyed upon the credulity of mankind,
it will simplify and elucidate the subject, if we divide it into three
classes: -- the first comprising alchymists, or those in general who
have devoted themselves to the discovering of the philosopher's stone
and the water of life; the second comprising astrologers,
necromancers, sorcerers, geomancers, and all those who pretended to
discover futurity; and the third consisting of the dealers in charms,
amulets, philters, universal-panacea mongers, touchers for the evil,
seventh sons of a seventh son, sympathetic powder compounders,
homeopathists, animal magnetizers, and all the motley tribe of quacks,
empirics, and charlatans.

But, in narrating the career of such men, it will be found that
many of them united several or all of the functions just mentioned;
that the alchymist was a fortune-teller, or a necromancer -- that he
pretended to cure all maladies by touch or charm, and to work miracles
of every kind. In the dark and early ages of European history, this is
more especially the case. Even as we advance to more recent periods,
we shall find great difficulty in separating the characters. The
alchymist seldom confined himself strictly to his pretended
science -- the sorcerer and necromancer to theirs, or the medical
charlatan to his. Beginning with alchymy, some confusion of these
classes is unavoidable; but the ground will clear for us as we

Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with
contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of the errors
into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never
be uninstructive. As the man looks back to the days of his childhood
and his youth, and recalls to his mind the strange notions and false
opinions that swayed his actions at that time, that he may wonder at
them, so should society, for its edification, look back to the
opinions which governed the ages fled. He is but a superficial thinker
who would despise and refuse to hear of them merely because they are
absurd. No man is so wise but that he may learn some wisdom from his
past errors, either of thought or action, and no society has made such
advances as to be capable of no improvement from the retrospect of its
past folly and credulity. And not only is such a study instructive: he
who reads for amusement only, will find no chapter in the annals of
the human mind more amusing than this. It opens out the whole realm of
fiction -- the wild, the fantastic, and the wonderful, and all the
immense variety of things "that are not, and cannot be; but that have
been imagined and believed."



"Mercury (loquitur). -- The mischief a secret any of them know,
above the consuming of coals and drawing of usquebaugh! Howsoever they
may pretend, under the specious names of Geber, Arnold, Lulli, or
bombast of Hohenheim, to commit miracles in art, and treason against
nature! As if the title of philosopher, that creature of glory, were
to be fetched out of a furnace! I am their crude, and their sublimate,
their precipitate, and their unctions; their male and their female,
sometimes their hermaphrodite -- what they list to style me! They will
calcine you a grave matron, as it might be a mother of the maids, and
spring up a young virgin out of her ashes, as fresh as a phoenix; lay
you an old courtier on the coals, like a sausage or a bloat-herring,
and, after they have broiled him enough, blow a soul into him, with a
pair of bellows! See! they begin to muster again, and draw their
forces out against me! The genius of the place defend me!" -- Ben
Jonson's Masque "Mercury vindicated from the Alchymists."





For more than a thousand years the art of alchymy captivated many
noble spirits, and was believed in by millions. Its origin is involved
in obscurity. Some of its devotees have claimed for it an antiquity
coeval with the creation of man himself; others, again, would trace it
no further back than the time of Noah. Vincent de Beauvais argues,
indeed, that all the antediluvians must have possessed a knowledge of
alchymy; and particularly cites Noah as having been acquainted with
the elixir vitae, or he could not have lived to so prodigious an age,
and have begotten children when upwards of five hundred. Lenglet du
Fresnoy, in his "History of the Hermetic Philosophy," says, "Most of
them pretended that Shem, or Chem, the son of Noah, was an adept in
the art, and thought it highly probable that the words chemistry and
alchymy were both derived from his name." Others say, the art was
derived from the Egyptians, amongst whom it was first founded by
Hermes Trismegistus. Moses, who is looked upon as a first-rate
alchymist, gained his knowledge in Egypt; but he kept it all to
himself, and would not instruct the children of Israel in its
mysteries. All the writers upon alchymy triumphantly cite the story of
the golden calf, in the 32nd chapter of Exodus, to prove that this
great lawgiver was an adept, and could make or unmake gold at his
pleasure. It is recorded, that Moses was so wroth with the Israelites
for their idolatry, "that he took the calf which they had made, and
burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon
the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it." This, say the
alchymists, he never could have done, had he not been in possession of
the philosopher's stone; by no other means could he have made the
powder of gold float upon the water. But we must leave this knotty
point for the consideration of the adepts in the art, if any such
there be, and come to more modern periods of its history. The Jesuit,
Father Martini, in his "Historia Sinica," says, it was practised by
the Chinese two thousand five hundred years before the birth of
Christ; but his assertion, being unsupported, is worth nothing. It
would appear, however, that pretenders to the art of making gold and
silver existed in Rome in the first centuries after the Christian era,
and that, when discovered, they were liable to punishment as knaves
and impostors. At Constantinople, in the fourth century, the
transmutation of metals was very generally believed in, and many of
the Greek ecclesiastics wrote treatises upon the subject. Their names
are preserved, and some notice of their works given, in the third
volume of Lenglet du Fresnoy's "History of the Hermetic Philosophy."
Their notion appears to have been, that all metals were composed of
two substances; the one, metallic earth; and the other, a red
inflammable matter, which they called sulphur. The pure union of these
substances formed gold; but other metals were mixed with and
contaminated by various foreign ingredients. The object of the
philosopher's stone was to dissolve or neutralize all these
ingredients, by which iron, lead, copper, and all metals would be
transmuted into the original gold. Many learned and clever men wasted
their time, their health, and their energies, in this vain pursuit;
but for several centuries it took no great hold upon the imagination
of the people. The history of the delusion appears, in a manner, lost
from this time till the eighth century, when it appeared amongst the
Arabians. From this period it becomes easier to trace its progress. A
master then appeared, who was long looked upon as the father of the
science, and whose name is indissolubly connected with it.


Of this philosopher, who devoted his life to the study of alchymy,
but few particulars are known. He is thought to have lived in the year
730. His true name was Abou Moussah Djafar, to which was added Al
Soft, or "The Wise," and he was born at Hauran, in Mesopotamia.
["Biographie Universelle."] Some have thought he was a Greek, others a
Spaniard, and others, a prince of Hindostan: but, of all the mistakes
which have been made respecting him, the most ludicrous was that made
by the French translator of Sprenger's "History of Medicine," who
thought, from the sound of his name, that he was a German, and
rendered it as the "Donnateur," or Giver. No details of his life are
known; but it is asserted, that he wrote more than five hundred works
upon the philosopher's stone and the water of life. He was a great
enthusiast in his art, and compared the incredulous to little children
shut up in a narrow room, without windows or aperture, who, because
they saw nothing beyond, denied the existence of the great globe
itself. He thought that a preparation of gold would cure all maladies,
not only in man, but in the inferior animals and plants. He also
imagined that all the metals laboured under disease, with the
exception of gold, which was the only one in perfect health. He
affirmed, that the secret of the philosopher's stone had been more
than once discovered; but that the ancient and wise men who had hit
upon it, would never, by word or writing, communicate it to men,
because of their unworthiness and incredulity. [His "sum of
perfection," or instructions to students to aid them in the laborious
search for the stone and elixir, has been translated into most of the
languages of Europe. An English translation, by a great enthusiast in
alchymy, one Richard Russell, was published in London in 1686. The
preface is dated eight years previously, from the house of the
alchymist, "at the Star, in Newmarket, in Wapping, near the Dock." His
design in undertaking the translation was, as he informs us, to expose
the false pretences of the many ignorant pretenders to the science who
abounded in his day.] But the life of Geber, though spent in the
pursuit of this vain chimera, was not altogether useless. He stumbled
upon discoveries which he did not seek, and science is indebted to him
for the first mention of corrosive sublimate, the red oxide of
mercury, nitric acid, and the nitrate of silver. [Article, Geber,
"Biographie Universelle."]

For more than two hundred years after the death of Geber, the
Arabian philosophers devoted themselves to the study of alchymy,
joining with it that of astrology. Of these the most celebrated was


Alfarabi flourished at the commencement of the tenth century, and
enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most learned men of his
age. He spent his life in travelling from country to country, that
he might gather the opinions of philosophers upon the great secrets of
nature. No danger dismayed him; no toil wearied him of the pursuit.
Many sovereigns endeavoured to retain him at their courts; but he
refused to rest until he had discovered the great object of his
life -- the art of preserving it for centuries, and of making gold as
much as he needed. This wandering mode of life at last proved fatal to
him. He had been on a visit to Mecca, not so much for religious as for
philosophical purposes, when, returning through Syria, he stopped at
the court of the Sultan Seifeddoulet, who was renowned as the patron
of learning. He presented himself in his travelling attire, in the
presence of that monarch and his courtiers; and, without invitation,
coolly sat himself down upon the sofa, beside the Prince. The
courtiers and wise men were indignant; and the Sultan, who did not
know the intruder, was at first inclined to follow their example. He
turned to one of his officers, and ordered him to eject the
presumptuous stranger from the room; but Alfarabi, without moving,
dared them to lay hands upon him; and, turning himself calmly to the
prince, remarked, that he did not know who was his guest, or he would
treat him with honour, not with violence. The Sultan, instead of being
still further incensed, as many potentates would have been, admired
his coolness; and, requesting him to sit still closer to him on the
sofa, entered into a long conversation with him upon science and
divine philosophy. All the court were charmed with the stranger.
Questions for discussion were propounded, on all of which he showed
superior knowledge. He convinced every one that ventured to dispute
with him; and spoke so eloquently upon the science of alchymy, that he
was at once recognised as only second to the great Geber himself. One
of the doctors present inquired whether a man who knew so many
sciences was acquainted with music? Alfarabi made no reply, but merely
requested that a lute should be brought him. The lute was brought; and
he played such ravishing and tender melodies, that all the court were
melted into tears. He then changed his theme, and played airs so
sprightly, that he set the grave philosophers, Sultan and all, dancing
as fast as their legs could carry them. He then sobered them again by
a mournful strain, and made them sob and sigh as if broken-hearted.
The Sultan, highly delighted with his powers, entreated him to stay,
offering him every inducement that wealth, power, and dignity could
supply; but the alchymist resolutely refused, it being decreed, he
said, that he should never repose till he had discovered the
philosopher's stone. He set out accordingly the same evening, and was
murdered by some thieves in the deserts of Syria. His biographers give
no further particulars of his life beyond mentioning, that he wrote
several valuable treatises on his art, all of which, however, have
been lost. His death happened in the year 954.


Avicenna, whose real name was Ebn Cinna, another great alchymist,
was born at Bokhara, in 980. His reputation as a physician and a man
skilled in all sciences was so great, that the Sultan Magdal Douleth
resolved to try his powers in the great science of government. He was
accordingly made Grand Vizier of that Prince, and ruled the state with
some advantage: but, in a science still more difficult, he failed
completely. He could not rule his own passions, but gave himself up to
wine and women, and led a life of shameless debauchery. Amid the
multifarious pursuits of business and pleasure, he nevertheless found
time to write seven treatises upon the philosopher's stone, which
were for many ages looked upon as of great value by pretenders to the
art. It is rare that an eminent physician, as Avicenna appears to have
been, abandons himself to sensual gratification; but so completely did
he become enthralled in the course of a few years, that he was
dismissed from his high office, and died shortly afterwards, of
premature old age and a complication of maladies, brought on by
debauchery. His death took place in the year 1036. After his time, few
philosophers of any note in Arabia are heard of as devoting themselves
to the study of alchymy; but it began shortly afterwards to attract
greater attention in Europe. Learned men in France, England, Spain,
and Italy expressed their belief in the science, and many devoted
their whole energies to it. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
especially, it was extensively pursued, and some of the brightest
names of that age are connected with it. Among the most eminent of
them are


The first of these philosophers was born in the year 1193, of a
noble family at Lawingen, in the duchy of Neuburg, on the Danube. For
the first thirty years of his life, he appeared remarkably dull and
stupid, and it was feared by every one that no good could come of him.
He entered a Dominican monastery at an early age; but made so little
progress in his studies, that he was more than once upon the point of
abandoning them in despair; but he was endowed with extraordinary
perseverance. As he advanced to middle age, his mind expanded, and he
learned whatever he applied himself to with extreme facility. So
remarkable a change was not, in that age, to be accounted for but by a
miracle. It was asserted and believed that the Holy Virgin, touched
with his great desire to become learned and famous, took pity upon his
incapacity, and appeared to him in the cloister where he sat, almost
despairing, and asked him whether he wished to excel in philosophy or
divinity. He chose philosophy, to the chagrin of the Virgin, who
reproached him in mild and sorrowful accents that he had not made a
better choice. She, however, granted his request that he should become
the most excellent philosopher of the age; but set this drawback to
his pleasure, that he should relapse, when at the height of his fame,
into his former incapacity and stupidity. Albertus never took the
trouble to contradict the story, but prosecuted his studies with such
unremitting zeal that his reputation speedily spread over all Europe.
In the year 1244, the celebrated Thomas Aquinas placed himself under
his tuition. Many extraordinary stories are told of the master and his
pupil. While they paid all due attention to other branches of science,
they never neglected the pursuit of the philosopher's stone and the
elixir vitae. Although they discovered neither, it was believed that
Albert had seized some portion of the secret of life, and found means
to animate a brazen statue, upon the formation of which, under proper
conjunctions of the planets, he had been occupied many years of his
life. He and Thomas Aquinas completed it together, endowed it with the
faculty of speech, and made it perform the functions of a domestic
servant. In this capacity it was exceedingly useful; but, through some
defect in the machinery, it chattered much more than was agreeable to
either philosopher. Various remedies were tried to cure it of its
garrulity, but in vain; and one day Thomas Aquinas was so enraged at
the noise it made, when he was in the midst of a mathematical
problem, that he seized a ponderous hammer and smashed it to pieces.
[Naude, "Apologie des Grands Hommes accuses de Magie ;" chap. xviii.]
He was sorry afterwards for what he had done, and was reproved by his
master for giving way to his anger, so unbecoming in a philosopher.
They made no attempt to re-animate the statue.

Such stories as these show the spirit of the age. Every great man
who attempted to study the secrets of nature was thought a magician;
and it is not to be wondered at that, when philosophers themselves
pretended to discover an elixir for conferring immortality, or a red
stone which was to create boundless wealth, that popular opinion
should have enhanced upon their pretensions, and have endowed them
with powers still more miraculous. It was believed of Albertus Magnus
that he could even change the course of the seasons; a feat which the
many thought less difficult than the discovery of the grand elixir.
Albertus was desirous of obtaining a piece of ground on which to build
a monastery, in the neighbourhood of Cologne. The ground belonged to
William, Count of Holland and King of the Romans, who, for some reason
or other, did not wish to part with it. Albertus is reported to have
gained it by the following extraordinary method: -- He invited the
Prince, as he was passing through Cologne, to a magnificent
entertainment prepared for him and all his court. The Prince accepted
it, and repaired with a lordly retinue to the residence of the sage.
It was in the midst of winter; the Rhine was frozen over, and the cold
was so bitter that the knights could not sit on horseback without
running the risk of losing their toes by the frost. Great, therefore,
was their surprise, on arriving at Albert's house, to find that the
repast was spread in his garden, in which the snow had drifted to the
depth of several feet. The Earl, in high dudgeon, remounted his steed;
but Albert at last prevailed upon him to take his seat at the table.
He had no sooner done so, than the dark clouds rolled away from the
sky -- a warm sun shone forth -- the cold north wind veered suddenly
round, and blew a mild breeze from the south -- the snows melted away
-- the ice was unbound upon the streams, and the trees put forth their
green leaves and their fruit -- flowers sprang up beneath their feet,
while larks, nightingales, blackbirds, cuckoos, thrushes, and every
sweet song-bird, sang hymns from every tree. The Earl and his
attendants wondered greatly; but they ate their dinner, and in
recompence for it, Albert got his piece of ground to build a convent
on. He had not, however, shown them all his power. Immediately that
the repast was over, he gave the word, and dark clouds obscured the
sun -- the snow fell in large flakes -- the singing-birds fell dead --
the leaves dropped from the trees, and the winds blew so cold, and
howled so mournfully, that the guests wrapped themselves up in their
thick cloaks, and retreated into the house to warm themselves at the
blazing fire in Albert's kitchen. [Lenglet, "Histoire de la
Philosophie Hermetique." See also, Godwin's "Lives of the

Thomas Aquinas also could work wonders as well as his master. It
is related of him, that he lodged in a street at Cologne, where he was
much annoyed by the incessant clatter made by the horses' hoofs, as
they were led through it daily to exercise by their grooms. He had
entreated the latter to select some other spot where they might not
disturb a philosopher, but the grooms turned a deaf ear to all his
solicitations. In this emergency he had recourse to the aid of magic.
He constructed a small horse of bronze, upon which he inscribed
certain cabalistic characters, and buried it at midnight in the midst
of the highway. The next morning, a troop of grooms came riding along
as usual; but the horses, as they arrived at the spot where the magic
horse was buried, reared and plunged violently -- their nostrils
distended with terror -- their manes grew erect, and the perspiration
ran down their sides in streams. In vain the riders applied the spur
-- in vain they coaxed or threatened, the animals would not pass the
spot. On the following day, their success was no better. They were at
length compelled to seek another spot for their exercise, and Thomas
Aquinas was left in peace. [Naude, "Apologie des Grands Hommes accuses
de Magie;" chap. xvii.]

Albertus Magnus was made Bishop of Ratisbon in 1259; but he
occupied the See only four years, when he resigned, on the ground that
its duties occupied too much of the time which he was anxious to
devote to philosophy. He died in Cologne in 1280, at the advanced age
of eighty-seven. The Dominican writers deny that he ever sought the
philosopher's stone, but his treatise upon minerals sufficiently
proves that he did.


Artephius, a name noted in the annals of alchymy, was born in the
early part of the twelfth century. He wrote two famous treatises; the
one upon the philosopher's stone, and the other on the art of
prolonging human life. In the latter he vaunts his great
qualifications for instructing mankind on such a matter, as he was at
that time in the thousand and twenty-fifth year of his age! He had
many disciples who believed in his extreme age, and who attempted to
prove that he was Apollonius of Tyana, who lived soon after the advent
of Jesus Christ, and the particulars of whose life and pretended
miracles have been so fully described by Philostratus. He took good
care never to contradict a story, which so much increased the power he
was desirous of wielding over his fellow-mortals. On all convenient
occasions, he boasted of it; and having an excellent memory, a fertile
imagination, and a thorough knowledge of all existing history, he was
never at a loss for an answer when questioned as to the personal
appearance, the manners, or the character of the great men of
antiquity. He also pretended to have found the philosopher's stone;
and said that, in search of it, he had descended to hell, and seen the
devil sitting on a throne of gold, with a legion of imps and fiends
around him. His works on alchymy have been translated into French, and
were published in Paris in 1609 or 1610.


Contemporary with Albertus Magnus was Alain de Lisle, of Flanders,
who was named, from his great learning, the "universal doctor." He was
thought to possess a knowledge of all the sciences, and, like
Artephius, to have discovered the elixir vitae. He became one of the
friars of the abbey of Citeaux, and died in 1298, aged about one
hundred and ten years. It was said of him, that he was at the point of
death when in his fiftieth year; but that the fortunate discovery of
the elixir enabled him to add sixty years to his existence. He wrote a
commentary on the prophecies of Merlin.


This philosopher has left a much greater reputation. He was born
in the year 1245, and studied medicine with great success in the
University of Paris. He afterwards travelled for twenty years in Italy
and Germany, where he made acquaintance with Pietro d'Apone; a man of
a character akin to his own, and addicted to the same pursuits. As a
physician, he was thought, in his own lifetime, to be the most able
the world had ever seen. Like all the learned men of that day, he
dabbled in astrology and alchymy, and was thought to have made immense
quantities of gold from lead and copper. When Pietro d'Apone was
arrested in Italy, and brought to trial as a sorcerer, a similar
accusation was made against Arnold; but he managed to leave the
country in time and escape the fate of his unfortunate friend. He lost
some credit by predicting the end of the world, but afterwards
regained it. The time of his death is not exactly known; but it must
have been prior to the year 1311, when Pope Clement V. wrote a
circular letter to all the clergy of Europe who lived under his
obedience, praying them to use their utmost efforts to discover the
famous treatise of Arnold on "The Practice of Medicine." The author
had promised, during his lifetime, to make a present of the work to
the Holy See, but died without fulfilling it.

In a very curious work by Monsieur Longeville Harcouet, entitled
"The History of the Persons who have lived several centuries, and then
grown young again," there is a receipt, said to have been given by
Arnold de Villeneuve, by means of which any one might prolong his life
for a few hundred years or so. In the first place, say Arnold and
Monsieur Harcouet, "the person intending so to prolong his life must
rub himself well, two or three times a week, with the juice or marrow
of cassia (moelle de la casse). Every night, upon going to bed, he
must put upon his heart a plaster, composed of a certain quantity of
Oriental saffron, red rose-leaves, sandal-wood, aloes, and amber,
liquified in oil of roses and the best white wax. In the morning, he
must take it off, and enclose it carefully in a leaden box till the
next night, when it must be again applied. If he be of a sanguine
temperament, he shall take sixteen chickens -- if phlegmatic,
twenty-five -- and if melancholy, thirty, which he shall put into a
yard where the air and the water are pure. Upon these he is to feed,
eating one a day; but previously the chickens are to be fattened by a
peculiar method, which will impregnate their flesh with the qualities
that are to produce longevity in the eater. Being deprived of all
other nourishment till they are almost dying of hunger, they are to be
fed upon broth made of serpents and vinegar, which broth is to be
thickened with wheat and bran." Various ceremonies are to be performed
in the cooking of this mess, which those may see in the book of M.
Harcouet, who are at all interested in the matter; and the chickens
are to be fed upon it for two months. They are then fit for table, and
are to be washed down with moderate quantities of good white wine or
claret. This regimen is to be followed regularly every seven years,
and any one may live to be as old as Methuselah! It is right to state,
that M. Harcouet has but little authority for attributing this
precious composition to Arnold of Villeneuve. It is not to be found in
the collected works of that philosopher; but was first brought to
light by a M. Poirier, at the commencement of the sixteenth century,
who asserted that he had discovered it in MS. in the undoubted writing
of Arnold.


This unlucky sage was born at Apone, near Padua, in the year 1250.
Like his friend Arnold de Villeneuve, he was an eminent physician, and
a pretender to the arts of astrology and alchymy. He practised for
many years in Paris, and made great wealth by killing and curing, and
telling fortunes. In an evil day for him, he returned to his own
country, with the reputation of being a magician of the first order.
It was universally believed that he had drawn seven evil spirits from
the infernal regions, whom he kept enclosed in seven crystal vases,
until he required their services, when he sent them forth to the ends
of the earth to execute his pleasure. One spirit excelled in
philosophy; a second, in alchymy; a third, in astrology; a fourth, in
physic; a fifth, in poetry; a sixth, in music; and the seventh, in
painting: and whenever Pietro wished for information or instruction in
any of these arts, he had only to go to his crystal vase, and liberate
the presiding spirit. Immediately, all the secrets of the art were
revealed to him; and he might, if it pleased him, excel Homer in
poetry, Apelles in painting, or Pythagoras himself in philosophy.
Although he could make gold out of brass, it was said of him, that he
was very sparing of his powers in that respect, and kept himself
constantly supplied with money by other and less creditable means.
Whenever he disbursed gold, he muttered a certain charm, known only to
himself; and next morning the gold was safe again in his own
possession. The trader to whom he gave it, might lock it in his strong
box, and have it guarded by a troop of soldiers; but the charmed metal
flew back to its old master. Even if it were buried in the earth, or
thrown into the sea, the dawn of the next morning would behold it in
the pockets of Pietro. Few people, in consequence, liked to have
dealings with such a personage, especially for gold. Some, bolder than
the rest, thought that his power did not extend over silver; but, when
they made the experiment, they found themselves mistaken. Bolts and
bars could not restrain it, and it sometimes became invisible in their
very hands, and was whisked through the air to the purse of the
magician. He necessarily acquired a very bad character; and, having
given utterance to some sentiments regarding religion which were the
very reverse of orthodox, he was summoned before the tribunals of the
Inquisition to answer for his crimes as a heretic and a sorcerer. He
loudly protested his innocence, even upon the rack, where he suffered
more torture than nature could support. He died in prison ere his
trial was concluded, but was afterwards found guilty. His bones were
ordered to be dug up, and publicly burned. He was also burned in
effigy in the streets of Padua.


While Arnold de Villeneuve and Pietro d'Apone flourished in France
and Italy, a more celebrated adept than either appeared in Spain. This
was Raymond Lulli, a name which stands in the first rank among the
alchymists. Unlike many of his predecessors, he made no pretensions to
astrology or necromancy; but, taking Geber for his model, studied
intently the nature and composition of metals, without reference to
charms, incantations, or any foolish ceremonies. It was not, however,
till late in life that he commenced his study of the art. His early
and middle age were spent in a different manner, and his whole history
is romantic in the extreme. He was born of an illustrious family, in
Majorca, in the year 1235. When that island was taken from the
Saracens by James I, King of Aragon, in 1230, the father of Raymond,
who was originally of Catalonia, settled there, and received a
considerable appointment from the Crown. Raymond married at an early
age; and, being fond of pleasure, he left the solitudes of his native
isle, and passed over with his bride into Spain. He was made Grand
Seneschal at the court of King James, and led a gay life for several
years. Faithless to his wife, he was always in the pursuit of some new
beauty, till his heart was fixed at last by the lovely, but unkind
Ambrosia de Castello. This lady, like her admirer, was married; but,
unlike him, was faithful to her vows, and treated all his
solicitations with disdain. Raymond was so enamoured, that repulse
only increased his flame; he lingered all night under her windows,
wrote passionate verses in her praise, neglected his affairs, and made
himself the butt of all the courtiers. One day, while watching under
her lattice, he by chance caught sight of her bosom, as her
neckerchief was blown aside by the wind. The fit of inspiration came
over him, and he sat down and composed some tender stanzas upon the
subject, and sent them to the lady. The fair Ambrosia had never before
condescended to answer his letters; but she replied to this. She told
him, that she could never listen to his suit; that it was unbecoming
in a wise man to fix his thoughts, as he had done, on any other than
his God; and entreated him to devote himself to a religious life, and
conquer the unworthy passion which he had suffered to consume him.
She, however, offered, if he wished it, to show him the fair bosom
which had so captivated him. Raymond was delighted. He thought the
latter part of this epistle but ill corresponded with the former, and
that Ambrosia, in spite of the good advice she gave him, had, at last,
relented, and would make him as happy as he desired. He followed her
about from place to place, entreating her to fulfil her promise: but
still Ambrosia was cold, and implored him with tears to importune her
no longer; for that she never could be his, and never would, if she
were free to-morrow. "What means your letter, then?" said the
despairing lover. "I will show you!" replied Ambrosia, who immediately
uncovered her bosom, and exposed to the eyes of her horror-stricken
admirer, a large cancer, which had extended to both breasts. She saw
that he was shocked; and, extending her hand to him, she prayed him
once more to lead a religious life, and set his heart upon the
Creator, and not upon the creature. He went home an altered man. He
threw up, on the morrow, his valuable appointment at the court,
separated from his wife, and took a farewell of his children, after
dividing one-half of his ample fortune among them. The other half he
shared among the poor. He then threw himself at the foot of a
crucifix, and devoted himself to the service of God, vowing, as the
most acceptable atonement for his errors, that he would employ the
remainder of his days in the task of converting the Mussulmans to the
Christian religion. In his dreams he saw Jesus Christ, who said to
him, "Raymond! Raymond! follow me!" The vision was three times
repeated, and Raymond was convinced that it was an intimation direct
from Heaven. Having put his affairs in order, he set out on a
pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James of Compostello, and afterwards
lived for ten years in solitude amid the mountains of Aranda. Here he
learned the Arabic, to qualify himself for his mission of converting
the Mahometans. He also studied various sciences, as taught in the
works of the learned men of the East, and first made acquaintance with
the writings of Geber, which were destined to exercise so much
influence over his future life.

At the end of this probation, and when he had entered his fortieth
year, he emerged from his solitude into more active life. With some
remains of his fortune, which had accumulated during his retirement,
he founded a college for the study of Arabic, which was approved of by
the Pope, with many commendations upon his zeal and piety. At this
time he narrowly escaped assassination from an Arabian youth whom he
had taken into his service. Raymond had prayed to God, in some of his
accesses of fanaticism, that he might suffer martyrdom in his holy
cause. His servant had overheard him; and, being as great a fanatic as
his master, he resolved to gratify his wish, and punish him, at the
same time, for the curses which he incessantly launched against
Mahomet and all who believed in him, by stabbing him to the heart. He,
therefore, aimed a blow at his master, as he sat one day at table; but
the instinct of self-preservation being stronger than the desire of
martyrdom, Raymond grappled with his antagonist, and overthrew him. He
scorned to take his life himself; but handed him over to the
authorities of the town, by whom he was afterwards found dead in his

After this adventure Raymond travelled to Paris, where he resided
for some time, and made the acquaintance of Arnold de Villeneuve. From
him he probably received some encouragement to search for the
philosopher's stone, as he began from that time forth to devote less
of his attention to religious matters, and more to the study of
alchymy. Still he never lost sight of the great object for which he
lived -- the conversion of the Mahometans -- and proceeded to Rome, to
communicate personally with Pope John XXI, on the best measures to be
adopted for that end. The Pope gave him encouragement in words, but
failed to associate any other persons with him in the enterprise which
he meditated. Raymond, therefore, set out for Tunis alone, and was
kindly received by many Arabian philosophers, who had heard of his
fame as a professor of alchymy. If he had stuck to alchymy while in
their country, it would have been well for him; but he began cursing
Mahomet, and got himself into trouble. While preaching the doctrines
of Christianity in the great bazaar of Tunis, he was arrested and
thrown into prison. He was shortly afterwards brought to trial, and
sentenced to death. Some of his philosophic friends interceded hard
for him, and he was pardoned, upon condition that he left Africa
immediately, and never again set foot in it. If he was found there
again, no matter what his object might be, or whatever length of time
might intervene, his original sentence would be carried into
execution. Raymond was not at all solicitous of martyrdom when it came
to the point, whatever he might have been when there was no danger,
and he gladly accepted his life upon these conditions, and left Tunis
with the intention of proceeding to Rome. He afterwards changed his
plan, and established himself at Milan, where, for a length of time,
he practised alchymy, and some say astrology, with great success.

Most writers who believed in the secrets of alchymy, and who have
noticed the life of Raymond Lulli, assert, that while in Milan, he
received letters from Edward King of England, inviting him to settle
in his states. They add, that Lulli gladly accepted the invitation,
and had apartments assigned for his use in the Tower of London, where
he refined much gold; superintended the coinage of "rose-nobles;" and
made gold out of iron, quicksilver, lead, and pewter, to the amount
of six millions. The writers in the "Biographie Universelle," an
excellent authority in general, deny that Raymond was ever in England,
and say, that in all these stories of his wondrous powers as an
alchymist, he has been mistaken for another Raymond, a Jew, of
Tarragona. Naude, in his "Apologie," says, simply, "that six millions
were given by Raymond Lulli to King Edward, to make war against the
Turks and other infidels:" not that he transmuted so much metal into
gold; but, as he afterwards adds, that he advised Edward to lay a tax
upon wool, which produced that amount. To show that Raymond went to
England, his admirers quote a work attributed to him, "De
Transmutatione Animae Metallorum," in which he expressly says, that he
was in England at the intercession of the King. [Vidimus omnia ista
dum ad Angliam transiimus, propter intercessionem Domini Regis Edoardi
illustrissimi.] The hermetic writers are not agreed whether it was
Edward I, or Edward II, who invited him over; but, by fixing the date
of his journey in 1312, they make it appear that it was Edward II.
Edmond Dickenson, in his work on the "Quintessences of the
Philosophers," says, that Raymond worked in Westminster Abbey, where,
a long time after his departure, there was found in the cell which he
had occupied, a great quantity of golden dust, of which the architects
made a great profit. In the biographical sketch of John Cremer, Abbot
of Westminster, given by Lenglet, it is said, that it was chiefly
through his instrumentality that Raymond came to England. Cremer had
been himself for thirty years occupied in the vain search for the
philosopher's stone, when he accidentally met Raymond in Italy, and
endeavoured to induce him to communicate his grand secret. Raymond
told him that he must find it for himself, as all great alchymists had
done before him. Cremer, on his return to England, spoke to King
Edward in high terms of the wonderful attainments of the philosopher,
and a letter of invitation was forthwith sent him. Robert
Constantinus, in the "Nomenclatore Scriptorum Medicorum," published in
1515, says, that after a great deal of research, be found that Raymond
Lulli resided for some time in London, and that he actually made gold,
by means of the philosopher's stone, in the Tower; that he had seen
the golden pieces of his coinage, which were still named in England
the nobles of Raymond, or rose-nobles. Lulli himself appears to have
boasted that he made gold; for, in his well-known "Testamentum," he
states, that he converted no less than fifty thousand pounds weight of
quicksilver, lead, and pewter into that metal. [Converti una vice in
aurum ad L millia pondo argenti vivi, plumbi, et stanni. -- Lullii
Testamentum.] It seems highly probable that the English King,
believing in the extraordinary powers of the alchymist, invited him to
England to make test of them, and that he was employed in refining
gold and in coining. Camden, who is not credulous in matters like
these, affords his countenance to the story of his coinage of nobles;
and there is nothing at all wonderful in the fact of a man famous for
his knowledge of metals being employed in such a capacity. Raymond
was, at this time, an old man, in his seventy-seventh year, and
somewhat in his dotage. He was willing enough to have it believed that
he had discovered the grand secret, and supported the rumour rather
than contradicted it. He did not long remain in England; but returned
to Rome, to carry out the projects which were nearer to his heart than
the profession of alchymy. He had proposed them to several successive
Popes with little or no success. The first was a plan for the
introduction of the Oriental languages into all the monasteries of
Europe; the second, for the reduction into one of all the military
orders, that, being united, they might move more efficaciously against
the Saracens; and, the third, that the Sovereign Pontiff should forbid
the works of Averroes to be read in the schools, as being more
favourable to Mahometanism than to Christianity. The Pope did not
receive the old man with much cordiality; and, after remaining for
about two years in Rome, he proceeded once more to Africa, alone and
unprotected, to preach the Gospel of Jesus. He landed at Bona in 1314;
and so irritated the Mahometans by cursing their prophet, that they
stoned him, and left him for dead on the sea-shore. He was found some
hours afterwards by a party of Genoese merchants, who conveyed him on
board their vessel, and sailed towards Majorca. The unfortunate man
still breathed, but could not articulate. He lingered in this state
for some days, and expired just as the vessel arrived within sight of
his native shores. His body was conveyed with great pomp to the church
of St. Eulalia, at Palma, where a public funeral was instituted in his
honour. Miracles were afterwards said to have been worked at his tomb.

Thus ended the career of Raymond Lulli, one of the most
extraordinary men of his age; and, with the exception of his last
boast about the six millions of gold, the least inclined to quackery
of any of the professors of alchymy. His writings were very numerous,
and include nearly five hundred volumes, upon grammar, rhetoric,
morals, theology, politics, civil and canon law, physics, metaphysics,
astronomy, medicine, and chemistry.


The powerful delusion of alchymy seized upon a mind still greater
than that of Raymond Lulli. Roger Bacon firmly believed in the
philosopher's stone, and spent much of his time in search of it. His
example helped to render all the learned men of the time more
convinced of its practicability, and more eager in the pursuit. He was
born at Ilchester, in the county of Somerset, in the year 1214. He
studied for some time in the university of Oxford, and afterwards in
that of Paris, in which he received the degree of doctor of divinity.
Returning to England in 1240, he became a monk of the order of St.
Francis. He was by far the most learned man of his age; and his
acquirements were so much above the comprehension of his
contemporaries, that they could only account for them by supposing
that he was indebted for them to the devil. Voltaire has not inaptly
designated him "De l'or encroute de toutes les ordures de son siecle;"
but the crust of superstition that enveloped his powerful mind, though
it may have dimmed, could not obscure the brightness of his genius. To
him, and apparently to him only, among all the inquiring spirits of
the time, were known the properties of the concave and convex lens. He
also invented the magic-lantern; that pretty plaything of modern days,
which acquired for him a reputation that embittered his life. In a
history of alchymy, the name of this great man cannot be omitted,
although, unlike many others of whom we shall have occasion to speak,
he only made it secondary to other pursuits. The love of universal
knowledge that filled his mind, would not allow him to neglect one
branch of science, of which neither he nor the world could yet see the
absurdity. He made ample amends for his time lost in this pursuit by
his knowledge in physics and his acquaintance with astronomy. The
telescope, burning-glasses, and gunpowder, are discoveries which may
well carry his fame to the remotest time, and make the world blind to
the one spot of folly -- the diagnosis of the age in which he lived,
and the circumstances by which he was surrounded. His treatise on the
"Admirable Power of Art and Nature in the Production of the
Philosopher's Stone" was translated into French by Girard de Tormes,
and published at Lyons in 1557. His "Mirror of Alchymy" was also
published in French in the same year, and in Paris in 1612, with some
additions from the works of Raymond Lulli. A complete list of all the
published treatises upon the subject may be seen in Lenglet du

Pope John XXII.

This Prelate is said to have been the friend and pupil of Arnold
de Villeneuve, by whom he was instructed in all the secrets of
alchymy. Tradition asserts of him, that he made great quantities of
gold, and died as rich as Croesus. He was born at Cahors, in the
province of Guienne, in the year 1244. He was a very eloquent
preacher, and soon reached high dignity in the Church. He wrote a work
on the transmutation of metals, and had a famous laboratory at
Avignon. He issued two Bulls against the numerous pretenders to the
art, who had sprung up in every part of Christendom; from which it
might be inferred that he was himself free from the delusion. The
alchymists claim him, however, as one of the most distinguished and
successful professors of their art, and say that his Bulls were not
directed against the real adepts, but the false pretenders. They lay
particular stress upon these words in his Bull, "Spondent, quas non
exhibent, divitias, pauperes alchymistae." These, it is clear, they
say, relate only to poor alchymists, and therefore false ones. He died
in the year 1344, leaving in his coffers a sum of eighteen millions of
florins. Popular belief alleged that he had made, and not amassed,
this treasure; and alchymists complacently cite this as a proof that
the philosopher's stone was not such a chimera as the incredulous
pretended. They take it for granted that John really left this money,
and ask by what possible means he could have accumulated it. Replying
to their own question, they say triumphantly, "His book shows it was
by alchymy, the secrets of which he learned from Arnold de Villeneuve
and Raymond Lulli. But he was as prudent as all other hermetic
philosophers. Whoever would read his book to find out his secret,
would employ all his labour in vain; the Pope took good care not to
divulge it." Unluckily for their own credit, all these gold-makers are
in the same predicament; their great secret loses its worth most
wonderfully in the telling, and therefore they keep it snugly to
themselves. Perhaps they thought that, if everybody could transmute
metals, gold would be so plentiful that it would be no longer
valuable, and that some new art would be requisite to transmute it
back again into steel and iron. If so, society is much indebted to
them for their forbearance.

Jean De Meung

All classes of men dabbled in the art at this time; the last
mentioned was a Pope, the one of whom we now speak was a poet. Jean de
Meung, the celebrated author of the "Roman de la Rose," was born in
the year 1279 or 1280, and was a great personage at the courts of
Louis X, Philip the Long, Charles IV, and Philip de Valois. His famous
poem of the "Roman de la Rose," which treats of every subject in vogue
at that day, necessarily makes great mention of alchymy. Jean was a
firm believer in the art, and wrote, besides his, "Roman," two shorter
poems, the one entitled, "The Remonstrance of Nature to the wandering
Alchymist," and "The Reply of the Alchymist to Nature." Poetry and
alchymy were his delight, and priests and women were his abomination.
A pleasant story is related of him and the ladies of the court of
Charles IV. He had written the following libellous couplet upon the
fair sex :--

"Toutes etes, serez, ou futes
De fait ou de volonte, putains,
Et qui, tres bien vous chercherait
Toutes putains, vous trouverait."

[These verses are but a coarser expression of the slanderous line
of Pope, that "every woman is at heart a rake."]

This naturally gave great offence; and being perceived one day, in the
King's antechamber, by some ladies who were waiting for an audience,
they resolved to punish him. To the number of ten or twelve, they
armed themselves with canes and rods; and surrounding the
unlucky poet, called upon the gentlemen present to strip him naked,
that they might wreak just vengeance upon him, and lash him through
the streets of the town. Some of the lords present were in no wise
loth, and promised themselves great sport from his punishment. But
Jean de Meung was unmoved by their threats, and stood up calmly in the
midst of them, begging them to hear him first, and then, if not
satisfied, they might do as they liked with him. Silence being
restored, he stood upon a chair, and entered on his defence. He
acknowledged that he was the author of the obnoxious verses, but
denied that they bore reference to all womankind. He only meant to
speak of the vicious and abandoned, whereas those whom he saw around
him, were patterns of virtue, loveliness, and modesty. If, however,
any lady present thought herself aggrieved, he would consent to be
stripped, and she might lash him till her arms were wearied. It is
added, that by this means Jean escaped his flogging, and that the
wrath of the fair ones immediately subsided. The gentlemen present
were, however, of opinion, that if every lady in the room, whose
character corresponded with the verses, had taken him at his word, the
poet would, in all probability, have been beaten to death. All his
life long he evinced a great animosity towards the priesthood, and his
famous poem abounds with passages reflecting upon their avarice,
cruelty, and immorality. At his death he left a large box, filled with
some weighty material, which he bequeathed to the Cordeliers, as a
peace-offering, for the abuse he had lavished upon them. As his
practice of alchymy was well-known, it was thought the box was filled
with gold and silver, and the Cordeliers congratulated each other on
their rich acquisition. When it came to be opened, they found to their
horror that it was filled only with slates, scratched with
hieroglyphic and cabalistic characters. Indignant at the insult, they
determined to refuse him Christian burial, on pretence that he was a
sorcerer. He was, however, honourably buried in Paris, the whole court
attending his funeral.


The story of this alchymist, as handed down by tradition, and
enshrined in the pages of Lenglet du Fresnoy, is not a little
marvellous. He was born at Pontoise of a poor but respectable family,
at the end of the thirteenth, or beginning of the fourteenth, century.
Having no patrimony, he set out for Paris at an early age, to try his
fortune as a public scribe. He had received a good education, was well
skilled in the learned languages, and was an excellent penman. He soon
procured occupation as a letter-writer and copyist, and used to sit at
the corner of the Rue de Marivaux, and practise his calling: but he
hardly made profits enough to keep body and soul together. To mend his
fortunes he tried poetry; but this was a more wretched occupation
still. As a transcriber he had at least gained bread and cheese; but
his rhymes were not worth a crust. He then tried painting with as
little success; and as a last resource, began to search for the
philosopher's stone, and tell fortunes. This was a happier idea; he
soon increased in substance, and had wherewithal to live comfortably.
He, therefore, took unto himself his wife Petronella, and began to
save money; but continued to all outward appearance as poor and
miserable as before. In the course of a few years, he became
desperately addicted to the study of alchymy, and thought of nothing
but the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life, and the universal
alkahest. In the year 1257, he bought by chance an old book for two
florins, which soon became the sole study and object of his life. It
was written with a steel instrument upon the bark of trees, and
contained twenty-one, or as he himself always expressed it, three
times seven, leaves. The writing was very elegant and in the Latin
language. Each seventh leaf contained a picture and no writing. On the
first of these was a serpent swallowing rods; on the second, a cross
with a serpent crucified; and on the third, the representation of a
desert, in the midst of which was a fountain with serpents crawling
from side to side. It purported to be written by no less a personage
than "Abraham, patriarch, Jew, prince, philosopher, priest, Levite,
and astrologer;" and invoked curses upon any one who should cast eyes
upon it, without being a sacrificer or a scribe. Nicholas Flamel never
thought it extraordinary that Abraham should have known Latin, and was
convinced that the characters on his book had been traced by the hands
of that great patriarch himself. He was at first afraid to read it,
after he became aware of the curse it contained; but he got over that
difficulty by recollecting that, although he was not a sacrificer, he
had practised as a scribe. As he read he was filled with admiration,
and found that it was a perfect treatise upon the transmutation of
metals. All the process was clearly explained; the vessels, the
retorts, the mixtures, and the proper times and seasons for the
experiment. But as ill-luck would have it, the possession of the
philosopher's stone or prime agent in the work was presupposed. This
was a difficulty which was not to be got over. It was like telling a
starving man how to cook a beefsteak, instead of giving him the money
to buy one. But Nicholas did not despair; and set about studying the
hieroglyphics and allegorical representations with which the book
abounded. He soon convinced himself that it had been one of the sacred
books of the Jews, and that it was taken from the temple of Jerusalem
on its destruction by Titus. The process of reasoning by which he
arrived at this conclusion is not stated.

From some expression in the treatise, he learned that the
allegorical drawings on the fourth and fifth leaves, enshrined the
secret of the philosopher's stone, without which all the fine Latin of
the directions was utterly unavailing. He invited all the alchymists
and learned men of Paris to come and examine them, but they all
departed as wise as they came. Nobody could make anything either of
Nicholas or his pictures; and some even went so far as to say that his
invaluable book was not worth a farthing. This was not to be borne;
and Nicholas resolved to discover the great secret by himself, without
troubling the philosophers. He found on the first page, of the fourth
leaf, the picture of Mercury, attacked by an old man resembling Saturn
or Time. The latter had an hourglass on his head, and in his hand a
scythe, with which he aimed a blow at Mercury's feet. The reverse of
the leaf represented a flower growing on a mountain top, shaken rudely
by the wind, with a blue stalk, red and white blossoms, and leaves of
pure gold. Around it were a great number of dragons and griffins. On
the first page of the fifth leaf was a fine garden, in the midst of
which was a rose tree in full bloom, supported against the trunk of a
gigantic oak. At the foot of this there bubbled up a fountain of
milk-white water, which forming a small stream, flowed through the
garden, and was afterwards lost in the sands. On the second page was a
King, with a sword in his hand, superintending a number of soldiers,
who, in execution of his orders, were killing a great multitude of
young children, spurning the prayers and tears of their mothers, who
tried to save them from destruction. The blood of the children was
carefully collected by another party of soldiers, and put into a large
vessel, in which two allegorical figures of the Sun and Moon were
bathing themselves.

For twenty-one years poor Nicholas wearied himself with the study
of these pictures, but still he could make nothing of them. His wife
Petronella at last persuaded him to find out some learned Rabbi; but
there was no Rabbi in Paris learned enough to be of any service to
him. The Jews met but small encouragement to fix their abode in
France, and all the chiefs of that people were located in Spain. To
Spain accordingly Nicholas Flamel repaired. He left his book in Paris
for fear, perhaps, that he might be robbed of it on the road; and
telling his neighbours that he was going on a pilgrimage to the shrine
of St. James of Compostello, he trudged on foot towards Madrid in
search of a Rabbi. He was absent two years in that country, and made
himself known to a great number of Jews, descendants of those who had
been expelled from France in the reign of Philip Augustus. The
believers in the philosopher's stone give the following account of his
adventures: -- They say that at Leon he made the acquaintance of a
converted Jew, named Cauches, a very learned physician, to whom he
explained the title and the nature of his little book. The Doctor was
transported with joy as soon as he heard it named, and immediately
resolved to accompany Nicholas to Paris, that he might have a sight of
it. The two set out together; the Doctor on the way entertaining his
companion with the history of his book, which, if the genuine book he
thought it to be, from the description he had heard of it, was in the
handwriting of Abraham himself, and had been in the possession of
personages no less distinguished than Moses, Joshua, Solomon, and
Esdras. It contained all the secrets of alchymy and of many other
sciences, and was the most valuable book that had ever existed in this
world. The Doctor was himself no mean adept, and Nicholas profited
greatly by his discourse, as in the garb of poor pilgrims they wended
their way to Paris, convinced of their power to turn every old shovel
in that capital into pure gold. But, unfortunately, when they reached
Orleans, the Doctor was taken dangerously ill. Nicholas watched by his
bedside, and acted the double part of a physician and nurse to him;
but he died after a few days, lamenting with his last breath that he
had not lived long enough to see the precious volume. Nicholas
rendered the last honours to his body; and with a sorrowful heart, and
not one sous in his pocket, proceeded home to his wife Petronella. He
immediately recommenced the study of his pictures; but for two whole
years he was as far from understanding them as ever. At last, in the
third year, a glimmer of light stole over his understanding. He
recalled some expression of his friend, the Doctor, which had hitherto
escaped his memory, and he found that all his previous experiments had
been conducted on a wrong basis. He recommenced them now with renewed
energy, and at the end of the year had the satisfaction to see all his
toils rewarded. On the 13th January 1382, says Lenglet, he made a
projection on mercury, and had some very excellent silver. On the 25th
April following, he converted a large quantity of mercury into gold,
and the great secret was his.

Nicholas was now about eighty years of age, and still a hale and
stout old man. His friends say that, by the simultaneous discovery of
the elixir of life, he found means to keep death at a distance for
another quarter of a century; and that he died in 1415, at the age of
116. In this interval he had made immense quantities of gold, though
to all outward appearance he was as poor as a mouse. At an early
period of his changed fortune, he had, like a worthy man, taken
counsel with his old wife Petronella, as to the best use he could make
of his wealth. Petronella replied, that as unfortunately they had no
children, the best thing he could do, was to build hospitals and endow
churches. Nicholas thought so too, especially when he began to find
that his elixir could not keep off death, and that the grim foe was
making rapid advances upon him. He richly endowed the church of St.
Jacques de la Boucherie, near the Rue de Marivaux, where he had all
his life resided, besides seven others in different parts of the
kingdom. He also endowed fourteen hospitals, and built three chapels.

The fame of his great wealth and his munificent benefactions soon
spread over all the country, and he was visited, among others, by the
celebrated Doctors of that day, Jean Gerson, Jean de Courtecuisse, and
Pierre d'Ailli. They found him in his humble apartment, meanly clad,
and eating porridge out of an earthen vessel; and with regard to his
secret, as impenetrable as all his predecessors in alchymy. His fame
reached the ears of the King, Charles VI, who sent M. de Cramoisi, the
Master of Requests, to find out whether Nicholas had indeed discovered
the philosopher's stone. But M. de Cramoisi took nothing by his visit;
all his attempts to sound the alchymist were unavailing, and he
returned to his royal master no wiser than he came. It was in this
year, 1414, that he lost his faithful Petronella. He did not long
survive her; but died in the following year, and was buried with great
pomp by the grateful priests of St. Jacques de la Boucherie.

The great wealth of Nicholas Flamel is undoubted, as the records
of several churches and hospitals in France can testify. That he
practised alchymy is equally certain, as he left behind several works
upon the subject.

Those who knew him well, and who were incredulous about the
philosopher's stone, give a very satisfactory solution of the secret
of his wealth. They say that he was always a miser and a usurer; that
his journey to Spain was undertaken with very different motives from
those pretended by the alchymists; that, in fact, he went to collect
debts due from Jews in that country to their brethren in Paris, and
that he charged a commission of fully cent. per cent. in consideration
of the difficulty of collecting and the dangers of the road; that when
he possessed thousands, he lived upon almost nothing; and was the
general money-lender, at enormous profits, of all the dissipated young
men at the French court.

Among the works written by Nicholas Flamel on the subject of
alchymy, is "The Philosophic Summary," a poem, reprinted in 1735, as
an appendix to the third volume of the "Roman de la Rose." He also
wrote three treatises upon natural philosophy, and an alchymic
allegory, entitled "Le Desir desire." Specimens of his writing, and a
fac-simile of the drawings in his book of Abraham, may be seen in
Salmon's "Bibliotheque des Philosophes Chimiques." The writer of the
article, "Flamel," in the "Biographie Universelle," says that, for a
hundred years after the death of Flamel, many of the adepts believed
that he was still alive, and that he would live for upwards of six
hundred years. The house he formerly occupied, at the corner of the
Rue de Marivaux, has been often taken by credulous speculators, and
ransacked from top to bottom, in the hopes that gold might be found. A
report was current in Paris, not long previous to the year 1816, that
some lodgers had found in the cellars several jars filled with a
dark-coloured ponderous matter. Upon the strength of the rumour, a
believer in all the wondrous tales told of Nicholas Flamel bought the
house, and nearly pulled it to pieces in ransacking the walls and
wainscotting for hidden gold. He got nothing for his pains, however,
and had a heavy bill to pay to restore his dilapidations.


While alchymy was thus cultivated on the continent of Europe, it
was not neglected in the isles of Britain. Since the time of Roger
Bacon, it had fascinated the imagination of many ardent men in
England. In the year 1404, an act of parliament was passed, declaring
the making of gold and silver to be felony. Great alarm was felt at
that time lest any alchymist should succeed in his projects, and
perhaps bring ruin upon the state, by furnishing boundless wealth to
some designing tyrant, who would make use of it to enslave his
country. This alarm appears to have soon subsided; for, in the year
1455, King Henry VI, by advice of his council and parliament, granted
four successive patents and commissions to several knights, citizens
of London, chemists, monks, mass-priests, and others, to find out the
philosopher's stone and elixir, "to the great benefit," said the
patent, "of the realm, and the enabling of the King to pay all the
debts of the Crown in real gold and silver." Prinn, in his "Aurum
Reginae," observes, as a note to this passage, that the King's reason
for granting this patent to ecclesiastics was, that they were such
good artists in transubstantiating bread and wine in the Eucharist,
and therefore the more likely to be able to effect the transmutation
of baser metals into better. No gold, of course, was ever made; and,
next year, the King, doubting very much of the practicability of the
thing, took further advice, and appointed a commission of ten learned
men, and persons of eminence, to judge and certify to him whether the
transmutation of metals were a thing practicable or no. It does not
appear whether the commission ever made any report upon the subject.

In the succeeding reign, an alchymist appeared who pretended to
have discovered the secret. This was George Ripley, the canon of
Bridlington, in Yorkshire. He studied for twenty years in the
universities of Italy, and was a great favourite with Pope Innocent
VIII, who made him one of his domestic chaplains, and master of the
ceremonies in his household. Returning to England in 1477, he
dedicated to King Edward IV. his famous work, "The Compound of
Alchymy; or, the Twelve Gates leading to the Discovery of the
Philosopher's Stone." These gates he described to be calcination,
solution, separation, conjunction, putrefaction, congelation,
cibation, sublimation, fermentation, exaltation, multiplication, and
projection! to which he might have added botheration, the most
important process of all. He was very rich, and allowed it to be
believed that he could make gold out of iron. Fuller, in his "Worthies
of England," says that an English gentleman of good credit reported
that, in his travels abroad, he saw a record in the island of Malta,
which declared that Ripley gave yearly to the knights of that island,
and of Rhodes, the enormous sum of one hundred thousand pounds
sterling, to enable them to carry on the war against the Turks. In his
old age, he became an anchorite near Boston, and wrote twenty-five
volumes upon the subject of alchymy, the most important of which is
the "Duodecim Portarum," already mentioned. Before he died, he seems
to have acknowledged that he had misspent his life in this vain study,
and requested that all men, when they met with any of his books, would
burn them, or afford them no credit, as they had been written merely
from his opinion, and not from proof; and that subsequent trial had
made manifest to him that they were false and vain. [Fuller's
"Worthies of England."]


Germany also produced many famous alchymists in the fifteenth
century, the chief of whom are Basil Valentine, Bernard of Treves, and
the Abbot Trithemius. Basil Valentine was born at Mayence, and was
made prior of St. Peter's, at Erfurt, about the year 1414. It was
known, during his life, that he diligently sought the philosopher's
stone, and that he had written some works upon the process of
transmutation. They were thought, for many years, to be lost; but
were, after his death, discovered enclosed in the stone work of one of
the pillars in the Abbey. They were twenty-one in number, and are
fully set forth in the third volume of Lenglet's "History of the
Hermetic Philosophy." The alchymists asserted, that Heaven itself
conspired to bring to light these extraordinary works; and that the
pillar in which they were enclosed was miraculously shattered by a
thunderbolt; and that, as soon as the manuscripts were liberated, the
pillar closed up again of its own accord!


The life of this philosopher is a remarkable instance of talent
and perseverance misapplied. In the search of his chimera nothing
could daunt him. Repeated disappointment never diminished his hopes;
and, from the age of fourteen to that of eighty-five, he was
incessantly employed among the drugs and furnaces of his laboratory,
wasting his life with the view of prolonging it, and reducing himself
to beggary in the hopes of growing rich.

He was born at either Treves or Padua, in the year 1406. His
father is said by some to have been a physician in the latter city;
and by others, to have been Count of the Marches of Treves, and one of
the most wealthy nobles of his country. At all events, whether noble
or physician, he was a rich man, and left his son a magnificent
estate. At the age of fourteen he first became enamoured of the
science of alchymy, and read the Arabian authors in their own
language. He himself has left a most interesting record of his labours
and wanderings, from which the following particulars are chiefly
extracted: -- The first book which fell into his hands, was that of the
Arabian philosopher, Rhazes, from the reading of which he imagined
that he had discovered the means of augmenting gold a hundred fold.
For four years he worked in his laboratory, with the book of Rhazes
continually before him. At the end of that time, he found that he had
spent no less than eight hundred crowns upon his experiment, and had
got nothing but fire and smoke for his pains. He now began to lose
confidence in Rhazes, and turned to the works of Geber. He studied him
assiduously for two years; and, being young, rich, and credulous, was
beset by all the chymists of the town, who kindly assisted him in
spending his money. He did not lose his faith in Geber, or patience
with his hungry assistants, until he had lost two thousand crowns - a
very considerable sum in those days.

Among all the crowd of pretended men of science who surrounded
him, there was but one as enthusiastic and as disinterested as
himself. With this man, who was a monk of the order of St. Francis, he
contracted an intimate friendship, and spent nearly all his time. Some
obscure treatises of Rupecissa and Sacrobosco having fallen into their
hands, they were persuaded, from reading them, that highly rectified
spirits of wine was the universal alkahest, or dissolvent, which would
aid them greatly in the process of transmutation. They rectified the
alcohol thirty times, till they made it so strong as to burst the
vessels which contained it. After they had worked three years, and
spent three hundred crowns in the liquor, they discovered that they
were on the wrong track. They next tried alum and copperas; but the
great secret still escaped them. They afterwards imagined that there
was a marvellous virtue in all excrement, especially the human, and
actually employed more than two years in experimentalizing upon it,
with mercury, salt, and molten lead! Again the adepts flocked around
him from far and near, to aid him with their counsels. He received
them all hospitably, and divided his wealth among them so generously
and unhesitatingly, that they gave him the name of the "good
Trevisan," by which he is still often mentioned in works that treat on
alchymy. For twelve years he led this life, making experiments every
day upon some new substance, and praying to God night and morning that
he might discover the secret of transmutation.

In this interval he lost his friend the monk, and was joined by a
magistrate of the city of Treves, as ardent as himself in the search.
His new acquaintance imagined that the ocean was the mother of gold,
and that sea-salt would change lead or iron into the precious metals.
Bernard resolved to try; and, transporting his laboratory to a house
on the coast of the Baltic, he worked upon salt for more than a year,
melting it, sublimating it, crystalizing it, and occasionally drinking
it, for the sake of other experiments. Still the strange enthusiast
was not wholly discouraged, and his failure in one trial only made him
the more anxious to attempt another.

He was now approaching the age of fifty, and had as yet seen
nothing of the world. He, therefore, determined to travel through
Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. Wherever he stopped he made
inquiries whether there were any alchymists in the neighbourhood. He
invariably sought them out; and, if they were poor, relieved, and, if
affluent, encouraged them. At Citeaux he became acquainted with one
Geoffrey Leuvier, a monk of that place, who persuaded him that the
essence of egg-shells was a valuable ingredient. He tried, therefore,
what could be done; and was only prevented from wasting a year or two
on the experiment by the opinions of an attorney, at Berghem, in
Flanders, who said that the great secret resided in vinegar and
copperas. He was not convinced of the absurdity of this idea until he
had nearly poisoned himself. He resided in France for about five
years, when, hearing accidentally that one Master Henry, confessor to
the Emperor Frederic III, had discovered the philosopher's stone, he
set out for Germany to pay him a visit. He had, as usual, surrounded
himself with a set of hungry dependants, several of whom determined to
accompany him. He had not heart to refuse them, and he arrived at
Vienna with five of them. Bernard sent a polite invitation to the
confessor, and gave him a sumptuous entertainment, at which were
present nearly all the alchymists of Vienna. Master Henry frankly
confessed that he had not discovered the philosopher's stone, but that
he had all his life been employed in searching for it, and would so
continue, till he found it; -- or died. This was a man after Bernard's
own heart, and they vowed with each other an eternal friendship. It
was resolved, at supper, that each alchymist present should contribute
a certain sum towards raising forty-two marks of gold, which, in five
days, it was confidently asserted by Master Henry, would increase, in
his furnace, five fold. Bernard, being the richest man, contributed
the lion's share, ten marks of gold, Master Henry five, and the others
one or two a piece, except the dependants of Bernard, who were obliged
to borrow their quota from their patron. The grand experiment was duly
made; the golden marks were put into a crucible, with a quantity of
salt, copperas, aquafortis, egg-shells, mercury, lead, and dung. The
alchymists watched this precious mess with intense interest, expecting
that it would agglomerate into one lump of pure gold. At the end of
three weeks they gave up the trial, upon some excuse that the crucible
was not strong enough, or that some necessary ingredient was wanting.
Whether any thief had put his hands into the crucible is not known,
but it is certain that the gold found therein at the close of the
experiment was worth only sixteen marks, instead of the forty-two,
which were put there at the beginning.

Bernard, though he made no gold at Vienna, made away with a very
considerable quantity. He felt the loss so acutely, that he vowed to
think no more of the philosopher's stone. This wise resolution he kept
for two months; but he was miserable. He was in the condition of the
gambler, who cannot resist the fascination of the game while he has a
coin remaining, but plays on with the hope of retrieving former
losses, till hope forsakes him, and he can live no longer. He returned
once more to his beloved crucibles, and resolved to prosecute his
journey in search of a philosopher who had discovered the secret, and
would communicate it to so zealous and persevering an adept as
himself. From Vienna he travelled to Rome, and from Rome to Madrid.
Taking ship at Gibraltar, he proceeded to Messina; from Messina to
Cyprus; from Cyprus to Greece; from Greece to Constantinople; and
thence into Egypt, Palestine, and Persia. These wanderings occupied
him about eight years. From Persia he made his way back to Messina,
and from thence into France. He afterwards passed over into England,
still in search of his great chimera; and this occupied four years
more of his life. He was now growing both old and poor; for he was
sixty-two years of age, and had been obliged to sell a great portion
of his patrimony to provide for his expenses. His journey to Persia
had cost upwards of thirteen thousand crowns, about one-half of which
had been fairly melted in his all-devouring furnaces: the other half
was lavished upon the sycophants that he made it his business to
search out in every town he stopped at.

On his return to Treves he found, to his sorrow, that, if not an
actual beggar, he was not much better. His relatives looked upon him
as a madman, and refused even to see him. Too proud to ask for favours
from any one, and still confident that, some day or other, he would be
the possessor of unbounded wealth, he made up his mind to retire to
the island of Rhodes, where he might, in the mean time, hide his
poverty from the eyes of all the world. Here he might have lived
unknown and happy; but, as ill luck would have it, he fell in with a
monk as mad as himself upon the subject of transmutation. They were,
however, both so poor that they could not afford to buy the proper
materials to work with. They kept up each other's spirits by learned
discourses on the Hermetic Philosophy, and in the reading of all the
great authors who had written upon the subject. Thus did they nurse
their folly, as the good wife of Tam O'Shanter did her wrath, "to keep
it warm." After Bernard had resided about a year in Rhodes, a
merchant, who knew his family, advanced him the sum of eight thousand
florins, upon the security of the last-remaining acres of his formerly
large estate. Once more provided with funds, he recommenced his
labours with all the zeal and enthusiasm of a young man. For three
years he hardly stepped out of his laboratory: he ate there, and slept
there, and did not even give himself time to wash his hands and clean
his beard, so intense was his application. It is melancholy to think
that such wonderful perseverance should have been wasted in so vain a
pursuit, and that energies so unconquerable should have had no
worthier field to strive in. Even when he had fumed away his last
coin, and had nothing left in prospective to keep his old age from
starvation, hope never forsook him. He still dreamed of ultimate
success, and sat down a greyheaded man of eighty, to read over all the
authors on the hermetic mysteries, from Geber to his own day, lest he
should have misunderstood some process, which it was not yet too late
to recommence. The alchymists say, that he succeeded at last, and
discovered the secret of transmutation in his eighty-second year. They
add, that he lived three years afterwards to enjoy his wealth. He
lived, it is true, to this great age, and made a valuable discovery -
more valuable than gold or gems. He learned, as he himself informs us,
just before he had attained his eighty-third year, that the great
secret of philosophy was contentment with our lot. Happy would it have
been for him if he had discovered it sooner, and before he became
decrepit, a beggar, and an exile!

He died at Rhodes, in the year 1490, and all the alchymists of
Europe sang elegies over him, and sounded his praise as the "good
Trevisan." He wrote several treatises upon his chimera, the chief of
which are, the "Book of Chemistry," the "Verbum dimissum," and an
essay "De Natura Ovi."


The name of this eminent man has become famous in the annals of
alchymy, although he did but little to gain so questionable an honour.
He was born in the year 1462, at the village of Trittheim, in the
electorate of Treves. His father was John Heidenberg, a vine-grower,
in easy circumstances, who, dying when his son was but seven years
old, left him to the care of his mother. The latter married again very
shortly afterwards, and neglected the poor boy, the offspring of her
first marriage. At the age of fifteen he did not even know his
letters, and was, besides, half starved, and otherwise ill-treated by
his step-father; but the love of knowledge germinated in the breast of
the unfortunate youth, and he learned to read at the house of a
neighbour. His father-in-law set him to work in the vineyards, and
thus occupied all his days; but the nights were his own. He often
stole out unheeded, when all the household were fast asleep, poring
over his studies in the fields, by the light of the moon; and thus
taught himself Latin and the rudiments of Greek. He was subjected to
so much ill-usage at home, in consequence of this love of study, that
he determined to leave it. Demanding the patrimony which his father
had left him, he proceeded to Treves; and, assuming the name of
Trithemius, from that of his native village of Trittheim, lived there
for some months, under the tuition of eminent masters, by whom he was
prepared for the university. At the age of twenty, he took it into his
head that he should like to see his mother once more; and he set out
on foot from the distant university for that purpose. On his arrival
near Spannheim, late in the evening of a gloomy winter's day, it came
on to snow so thickly, that he could not proceed onwards to the town.
He, therefore, took refuge for the night in a neighbouring monastery;
but the storm continued several days, the roads became impassable, and
the hospitable monks would not hear of his departure. He was so
pleased with them and their manner of life, that he suddenly resolved
to fix his abode among them, and renounce the world. They were no less
pleased with him, and gladly received him as a brother. In the course
of two years, although still so young, he was unanimously elected
their Abbot. The financial affairs of the establishment had been
greatly neglected, the walls of the building were falling into ruin,
and everything was in disorder. Trithemius, by his good management and
regularity, introduced a reform in every branch of expenditure. The
monastery was repaired, and a yearly surplus, instead of a deficiency,
rewarded him for his pains. He did not like to see the monks idle, or
occupied solely between prayers for their business, and chess for
their relaxation. He, therefore, set them to work to copy the writings
of eminent authors. They laboured so assiduously, that, in the course
of a few years, their library, which had contained only about forty
volumes, was enriched with several hundred valuable manuscripts,
comprising many of the classical Latin authors, besides the works of
the early fathers, and the principal historians and philosophers of
more modern date. He retained the dignity of Abbot of Spannheim for
twenty-one years, when the monks, tired of the severe discipline he
maintained, revolted against him, and chose another abbot in his
place. He was afterwards made Abbot of St. James, in Wurtzburg, where
he died in 1516.

During his learned leisure at Spannheim, he wrote several works
upon the occult sciences, the chief of which are an essay on geomancy,
or divination by means of lines and circles on the ground; another
upon sorcery; a third upon alchymy; and a fourth upon the government
of the world by its presiding angels, which was translated into
English, and published by the famous William Lilly in 1647.

It has been alleged by the believers in the possibility of
transmutation, that the prosperity of the abbey of Spannheim, while
under his superintendence, was owing more to the philosopher's stone
than to wise economy. Trithemius, in common with many other learned
men, has been accused of magic; and a marvellous story is told of his
having raised from the grave the form of Mary of Burgundy, at the
intercession of her widowed husband, the Emperor Maximilian. His work
on steganographia, or cabalistic writing, was denounced to the Count
Palatine, Frederic II, as magical and devilish; and it was by him
taken from the shelves of his library and thrown into the fire.
Trithemius is said to be the first writer who makes mention of the
wonderful story of the devil and Dr. Faustus, the truth of which he
firmly believed. He also recounts the freaks of a spirit, named
Hudekin, by whom he was at times tormented. [Biographie Universelle]


One of the greatest encouragers of alchymy in the fifteenth
century was Gilles de Laval, Lord of Rays and a Marshal of France. His
name and deeds are little known; but in the annals of crime and folly,
they might claim the highest and worst pro-eminence. Fiction has never
invented anything wilder or more horrible than his career; and were
not the details but too well authenticated by legal and other
documents which admit no doubt, the lover of romance might easily
imagine they were drawn to please him from the stores of the prolific
brain, and not from the page of history.

He was born about the year 1420, of one of the noblest families of
Brittany. His father dying when Gilles had attained his twentieth
year, he came into uncontrolled possession, at that early age, of a
fortune which the monarchs of France might have envied him. He was a
near kinsman of the Montmorencys, the Roncys, and the Craons;
possessed fifteen princely domains, and had an annual revenue of about
three hundred thousand livres. Besides this, he was handsome, learned,
and brave. He distinguished himself greatly in the wars of Charles
VII, and was rewarded by that monarch with the dignity of a marshal of
France. But he was extravagant and magnificent in his style of living,
and accustomed from his earliest years to the gratification of every
wish and passion; and this, at last, led him from vice to vice, and
from crime to crime, till a blacker name than his is not to be found
in any record of human iniquity.

In his castle of Champtoce, he lived with all the splendour of an
Eastern Caliph. He kept up a troop of two hundred horsemen to
accompany him wherever he went; and his excursions for the purposes of
hawking and hunting were the wonder of all the country around, so
magnificent were the caparisons of his steeds and the dresses of his
retainers. Day and night, his castle was open all the year round to
comers of every degree. He made it a rule to regale even the poorest
beggar with wine and hippocrass. Every day an ox was roasted whole in
his spacious kitchens, besides sheep, pigs, and poultry sufficient to
feed five hundred persons. He was equally magnificent in his
devotions. His private chapel at Champtoce was the most beautiful in
France, and far surpassed any of those in the richly-endowed
cathedrals of Notre Dame in Paris, of Amiens, of Beauvais, or of
Rouen. It was hung with cloth of gold and rich velvet. All the
chandeliers were of pure gold, curiously inlaid with silver. The great
crucifix over the altar was of solid silver, and the chalices and
incense-burners were of pure gold. He had, besides, a fine organ,
which he caused to be carried from one castle to another, on the
shoulders of six men, whenever he changed his residence. He kept up a
choir of twenty-five young children of both sexes, who were instructed
in singing by the first musicians of the day. The master of his chapel
he called a bishop, who had under him his deans, archdeacons, and
vicars, each receiving great salaries; the bishop four hundred crowns
a year, and the rest in proportion.

He also maintained a whole troop of players, including ten
dancing-girls and as many ballad-singers, besides morris-dancers,
jugglers, and mountebanks of every description. The theatre on which
they performed was fitted up without any regard to expense; and they
played mysteries, or danced the morris-dance, every evening, for the
amusement of himself and household, and such strangers as were sharing
his prodigal hospitality.

At the age of twenty-three, he married Catherine, the wealthy
heiress of the house of Touars, for whom he refurnished his castle at
an expense of a hundred thousand crowns. His marriage was the signal
for new extravagance, and he launched out more madly than ever he had
done before; sending for fine singers or celebrated dancers from
foreign countries to amuse him and his spouse, and instituting tilts
and tournaments in his great court-yard almost every week for all the
knights and nobles of the province of Brittany. The Duke of Brittany's
court was not half so splendid as that of the Marechal de Rays. His
utter disregard of wealth was so well known that he was made to pay
three times its value for everything he purchased. His castle was
filled with needy parasites and panderers to his pleasures, amongst
whom he lavished rewards with an unsparing hand. But the ordinary
round of sensual gratification ceased at last to afford him delight:
he was observed to be more abstemious in the pleasures of the table,
and to neglect the beauteous dancing-girls who used formerly to occupy
so much of his attention. He was sometimes gloomy and reserved; and
there was an unnatural wildness in his eye which gave indications of
incipient madness. Still, his discourse was as reasonable as ever; his
urbanity to the guests that flocked from far and near to Champtoce
suffered no diminution; and learned priests, when they conversed with
him, thought to themselves that few of the nobles of France were so
well-informed as Gilles de Laval. But dark rumours spread gradually
over the country; murder, and, if possible, still more atrocious deeds
were hinted at; and it was remarked that many young children, of both
sexes, suddenly disappeared, and were never afterwards heard of. One
or two had been traced to the castle of Champtoce, and had never been
seen to leave it; but no one dared to accuse openly so powerful a man
as the Marechal de Rays. Whenever the subject of the lost children was
mentioned in his presence, he manifested the greatest astonishment at
the mystery which involved their fate, and indignation against those
who might be guilty of kidnapping them. Still the world was not wholly
deceived; his name became as formidable to young children as that of
the devouring ogre in fairy tales; and they were taught to go miles
round, rather than pass under the turrets of Champtoce.

In the course of a very few years, the reckless extravagance of
the Marshal drained him of all his funds, and he was obliged to put up
some of his estates for sale. The Duke of Brittany entered into a
treaty with him for the valuable seignory of Ingrande; but the heirs
of Gilles implored the interference of Charles VII. to stay the sale.
Charles immediately issued an edict, which was confirmed by the
Provincial Parliament of Brittany, forbidding him to alienate his
paternal estates. Gilles had no alternative but to submit. He had
nothing to support his extravagance but his allowance as a Marshal of
France, which did not cover the one-tenth of his expenses. A man of
his habits and character could not retrench his wasteful expenditure
and live reasonably; he could not dismiss without a pang his horsemen,
his jesters, his morris-dancers, his choristers, and his parasites, or
confine his hospitality to those who really needed it. Notwithstanding
his diminished resources, he resolved to live as he had lived before,
and turn alchymist, that he might make gold out of iron, and be still
the wealthiest and most magnificent among the nobles of Brittany.

In pursuance of this determination he sent to Paris, Italy,
Germany, and Spain, inviting all the adepts in the science to visit
him at Champtoce. The messengers he despatched on this mission were
two of his most needy and unprincipled dependants, Gilles de Sille and
Roger de Bricqueville. The latter, the obsequious panderer to his most
secret and abominable pleasures, he had intrusted with the education
of his motherless daughter, a child but five years of age, with
permission, that he might marry her at the proper time to any person
he chose, or to himself if he liked it better. This man entered into
the new plans of his master with great zeal, and introduced to him one
Prelati, an alchymist of Padua, and a physician of Poitou, who was
addicted to the same pursuits. The Marshal caused a splendid
laboratory to be fitted up for them, and the three commenced the
search for the philosopher's stone. They were soon afterwards joined
by another pretended philosopher, named Anthony of Palermo, who aided
in their operations for upwards of a year. They all fared sumptuously
at the Marshal's expense, draining him of the ready money he
possessed, and leading him on from day to day with the hope that they
would succeed in the object of their search. From time to time new
aspirants from the remotest parts of Europe arrived at his castle, and
for months he had upwards of twenty alchymists at work - trying to
transmute copper into gold, and wasting the gold, which was still his
own, in drugs and elixirs.

But the Lord of Rays was not a man to abide patiently their
lingering processes. Pleased with their comfortable quarters, they
jogged on from day to day, and would have done so for years, had they
been permitted. But he suddenly dismissed them all, with the exception
of the Italian Prelati, and the physician of Poitou. These he retained
to aid him to discover the secret of the philosopher's stone by a
bolder method. The Poitousan had persuaded him that the devil was the
great depositary of that and all other secrets, and that he would
raise him before Gilles, who might enter into any contract he pleased
with him. Gilles expressed his readiness, and promised to give the
devil anything but his soul, or do any deed that the arch-enemy might
impose upon him. Attended solely by the physician, he proceeded at
midnight to a wild-looking place in a neighbouring forest; the
physician drew a magic circle around them on the sward, and muttered
for half an hour an invocation to the Evil Spirit to arise at his
bidding, and disclose the secrets of alchymy. Gilles looked on with
intense interest, and expected every moment to see the earth open, and
deliver to his gaze the great enemy of mankind. At last the eyes of
the physician became fixed, his hair stood on end, and he spoke, as if
addressing the fiend. But Gilles saw nothing except his companion. At
last the physician fell down on the sward as if insensible. Gilles
looked calmly on to see the end. After a few minutes the physician
arose, and asked him if he had not seen how angry the devil looked?
Gilles replied, that he had seen nothing; upon which his companion
informed him that Beelzebub had appeared in the form of a wild
leopard, growled at him savagely, and said nothing; and that the
reason why the Marshal had neither seen nor heard him, was that he
hesitated in his own mind as to devoting himself entirely to the
service. De Rays owned that he had indeed misgivings, and inquired
what was to be done to make the devil speak out, and unfold his
secret? The physician replied, that some person must go to Spain and
Africa to collect certain herbs which only grew in those countries,
and offered to go himself, if De Rays would provide the necessary
funds. De Rays at once consented; and the physician set out on the
following day with all the gold that his dupe could spare him. The
Marshal never saw his face again.

But the eager Lord of Champtoce could not rest. Gold was necessary
for his pleasures; and unless, by supernatural aid, he had no means of
procuring many further supplies. The physician was hardly twenty
leagues on his journey, before Gilles resolved to make another effort
to force the devil to divulge the art of gold making. He went out
alone for that purpose, but all his conjurations were of no effect.
Beelzebub was obstinate, and would not appear. Determined to conquer
him if he could, he unbosomed himself to the Italian alchymist,
Prelati. The latter offered to undertake the business, upon condition
that De Rays did not interfere in the conjurations, and consented
besides to furnish him with all the charms and talismans that might be
required. He was further to open a vein in his arm, and sign with his
blood a contract that he would work the devil's will in all things,
and offer up to him a sacrifice of the heart, lungs, hands, eyes, and
blood of a young child. The grasping monomaniac made no hesitation;
but agreed at once to the disgusting terms proposed to him. On the
following night, Prelati went out alone; and after having been absent
for three or four hours, returned to Gilles, who sat anxiously
awaiting him. Prelati then informed him that he had seen the devil in
the shape of a handsome youth of twenty. He further said, that the
devil desired to be called Barron in all future invocations; and had
shown him a great number of ingots of pure gold, buried under a large
oak in the neighbouring forest, all of which, and as many more as he
desired, should become the property of the Marechal de Rays if he
remained firm, and broke no condition of the contract. Prelati further
showed him a small casket of black dust, which would turn iron into
gold; but as the process was very troublesome, he advised that they
should be contented with the ingots they found under the oak tree, and
which would more than supply all the wants that the most extravagant
imagination could desire. They were not, however, to attempt to look
for the gold till a period of seven times seven weeks, or they would
find nothing but slates and stones for their pains. Gilles expressed
the utmost chagrin and disappointment, and at once said that he could
not wait for so long a period; if the devil were not more prompt,
Prelati might tell him, that the Marechal de Rays was not to be
trifled with, and would decline all further communication with him.
Prelati at last persuaded him to wait seven times seven days. They
then went at midnight with picks and shovels to dig up the ground
under the oak, where they found nothing to reward them but a great
quantity of slates, marked with hieroglyphics. It was now Prelati's
turn to be angry; and he loudly swore that the devil was nothing but a
liar and a cheat. The Marshal joined cordially in the opinion, but was
easily persuaded by the cunning Italian to make one more trial. He
promised at the same time that he would endeavour, on the following
night, to discover the reason why the devil had broken his word. He
went out alone accordingly, and on his return informed his patron that
he had seen Barron, who was exceedingly angry that they had not waited
the proper time ere they looked for the ingots. Barron had also said,
that the Marechal de Rays could hardly expect any favours from him, at
a time when he must know that he had been meditating a pilgrimage to
the Holy Land, to make atonement for his sins. The Italian had
doubtless surmised this, from some incautious expression of his
patron, for De Rays frankly confessed that there were times when, sick
of the world and all its pomps and vanities, he thought of devoting
himself to the service of God.

In this manner the Italian lured on from month to month his
credulous and guilty patron, extracting from him all the valuables he
possessed, and only waiting a favourable opportunity to decamp with
his plunder. But the day of retribution was at hand for both. Young
girls and boys continued to disappear in the most mysterious manner;
and the rumours against the owner of Champtoce grew so loud and
distinct, that the Church was compelled to interfere. Representations
were made by the Bishop of Nantes to the Duke of Brittany, that it
would be a public scandal if the accusations against the Marechal de
Rays were not inquired into. He was arrested accordingly in his own
castle, along with his accomplice Prelati, and thrown into a dungeon
at Nantes to await his trial.

The judges appointed to try him were the Bishop of Nantes
Chancellor of Brittany, the Vicar of the Inquisition in France, and
the celebrated Pierre l'Hopital, the President of the Provincial
Parliament. The offences laid to his charge were sorcery, sodomy, and
murder. Gilles, on the first day of his trial, conducted himself with
the utmost insolence. He braved the judges on the judgment seat,
calling them simoniacs and persons of impure life, and said he would
rather be hanged by the neck like a dog without trial, than plead
either guilty or not guilty to such contemptible miscreants. But his
confidence forsook him as the trial proceeded, and he was found guilty
on the clearest evidence of all the crimes laid to his charge. It was
proved that he took insane pleasure in stabbing the victims of his
lust, and in observing the quivering of their flesh, and the fading
lustre of their eyes as they expired. The confession of Prelati first
made the judges acquainted with this horrid madness, and Gilles
himself confirmed it before his death. Nearly a hundred children of
the villagers around his two castles of Champtoce and Machecoue, had
been missed within three years the greater part, if not all, of whom
were immolated to the lust or the cupidity of this monster. He
imagined that he thus made the devil his friend, and that his
recompence would be the secret of the philosopher's stone.

Gilles and Prelati were both condemned to be burned alive. At the
place of execution they assumed the air of penitence and religion.
Gilles tenderly embraced Prelati, saying, "Farewell, friend Francis!
In this world we shall never meet again; but let us place our hopes in
God; we shall see each other in Paradise." Out of consideration for
his high rank and connections, the punishment of the Marshal was so
far mitigated, that he was not burned alive like Prelati. He was first
strangled, and then thrown into the flames: his body, when half
consumed, was given over to his relatives for interment; while that of
the Italian was burned to ashes, and then scattered in the winds. [For
full details of this extraordinary trial, see "Lobineau's Nouvelle
Histoire de Bretagne;" and D'Argentre's work on the same subject.]


This remarkable pretender to the secret of the philosopher's
stone, was contemporary with the last mentioned. He was a great
personage at the court of Charles VII, and in the events of his reign
played a prominent part. From a very humble origin he rose to the
highest honours of the state, and amassed enormous wealth, by
peculation and the plunder of the country which he should have served.
It was to hide his delinquencies in this respect, and to divert
attention from the real source of his riches, that he boasted of
having discovered the art of transmuting the inferior metals into gold
and silver.

His father was a goldsmith in the city of Bourges; but so reduced
in circumstances towards the latter years of his life, that he was
unable to pay the necessary fees to procure his son's admission into
the guild. Young Jacques became, however, a workman in the Royal Mint
of Bourges, in 1428, and behaved himself so well, and showed so much
knowledge of metallurgy, that he attained rapid promotion in that
establishment. He had also the good fortune to make the acquaintance
of the fair Agnes Sorel, by whom he was patronized and much esteemed.
Jacques had now three things in his favour - ability, perseverance,
and the countenance of the King's mistress. Many a man succeeds with
but one of these to help him forward: and it would have been strange
indeed, if Jacques Coeur, who had them all, should have languished in
obscurity. While still a young man he was made Master of the Mint, in
which he had been a journeyman, and installed at the same time into
the vacant office of Grand Treasurer of the royal household.

He possessed an extensive knowledge of finance, and turned it
wonderfully to his own advantage as soon as he became intrusted with
extensive funds. He speculated in articles of the first necessity, and
made himself very unpopular by buying up grain, honey, wines, and
other produce, till there was a scarcity, when he sold it again at
enormous profit. Strong in the royal favour, he did not hesitate to
oppress the poor by continual acts of forestalling and monopoly. As
there is no enemy so bitter as the estranged friend, so of all the
tyrants and tramplers upon the poor, there is none so fierce and
reckless as the upstart that sprang from their ranks. The offensive
pride of Jacques Coeur to his inferiors was the theme of indignant
reproach in his own city, and his cringing humility to those above him
was as much an object of contempt to the aristocrats into whose
society he thrust himself. But Jacques did not care for the former,
and to the latter he was blind. He continued his career till he became
the richest man in France, and so useful to the King that no important
enterprise was set on foot until he had been consulted. He was sent in
1446 on an embassy to Genoa, and in the following year to Pope
Nicholas V. In both these missions he acquitted himself to the
satisfaction of his sovereign, and was rewarded with a lucrative
appointment, in addition to those which he already held.

In the year 1449, the English in Normandy, deprived of their great
general, the Duke of Bedford, broke the truce with the French King,
and took possession of a small town belonging to the Duke of Brittany.
This was the signal for the recommencemerit of a war, in which the
French regained possession of nearly the whole province. The money for
this war was advanced, for the most part, by Jacques Coeur. When Rouen
yielded to the French, and Charles made his triumphal entry into that
city, accompanied by Dunois and his most famous generals, Jacques was
among the most brilliant of his cortege. His chariot and horses vied
with those of the King in the magnificence of their trappings; and his
enemies said of him that he publicly boasted that he alone had driven
out the English, and that the valour of the troops would would have
been nothing without his gold.

Dunois appears, also, to have been partly of the same opinion.
Without disparaging the courage of the army, he acknowledged the
utility of the able financier, by whose means they had been fed and
paid, and constantly afforded him his powerful protection.

When peace returned, Jacques again devoted himself to commerce,
and fitted up several galleys to trade with the Genoese. He also
bought large estates in various parts of France; the chief of which
were the baronies of St. Fargeau, Meneton, Salone, Maubranche, Meaune,
St. Gerant de Vaux, and St. Aon de Boissy; the earldoms or counties of
La Palisse, Champignelle, Beaumont, and Villeneuve la Genet, and the
marquisate of Toucy. He also procured for his son, Jean Coeur, who had
chosen the Church for his profession, a post no less distinguished
than that of Archbishop of Bourges.

Everybody said that so much wealth could not have been honestly
acquired; and both rich and poor longed for the day that should humble
the pride of the man, whom the one class regarded as an upstart and
the other as an oppressor. Jacques was somewhat alarmed at the rumours
that were afloat respecting him, and of dark hints that he had debased
the coin of the realm and forged the King's seal to an important
document, by which he had defrauded the state of very considerable
sums. To silence these rumours, he invited many alchymists from
foreign countries to reside with him, and circulated a counter-rumour,
that he had discovered the secret of the philosopher's stone. He also
built a magnificent house in his native city, over the entrance of
which he caused to be sculptured the emblems of that science. Some
time afterwards, he built another, no less splendid, at Montpellier,
which he inscribed in a similar manner. He also wrote a treatise upon
the hermetic philosophy, in which he pretended that he knew the secret
of transmuting metals.

But all these attempts to disguise his numerous acts of peculation
proved unavailing; and he was arrested in 1452, and brought to trial
on several charges. Upon one only, which the malice of his enemies
invented to ruin him, was he acquitted; which was, that he had been
accessory to the death, by poison, of his kind patroness, Agnes Sorel.
Upon the others, he was found guilty; and sentenced to be banished the
kingdom, and to pay the enormous fine of four hundred thousand crowns.
It was proved that he had forged the King's seal; that, in his
capacity of Master of the Mint of Bourges, he had debased, to a very
great extent, the gold and silver coin of the realm; and that he had
not hesitated to supply the Turks with arms and money to enable them
to carry on war against their Christian neighbours, for which service
he had received the most munificent recompences. Charles VII. was
deeply grieved at his condemnation, and believed to the last that he
was innocent. By his means the fine was reduced within a sum which
Jacques Coeur could pay. After remaining for some time in prison, he
was liberated, and left France with a large sum of money, part of
which, it was alleged, was secretly paid him by Charles out of the
produce of his confiscated estates. He retired to Cyprus, where he
died about 1460, the richest and most conspicuous personage of the

The writers upon alchymy all claim Jacques Coeur as a member of
their fraternity, and treat as false and libellous the more rational
explanation of his wealth which the records of his trial afford.
Pierre Borel, in his "Antiquites Gauloises," maintains the opinion
that Jacques was an honest man, and that he made his gold out of lead
and copper by means of the philosopher's stone. The alchymic adepts in
general were of the same opinion; but they found it difficult to
persuade even his contemporaries of the fact. Posterity is still less
likely to believe it.


Many other pretenders to the secrets of the philosopher's stone
appeared in every country in Europe, during the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries. The possibility of transmutation was so generally
admitted, that every chemist was more or less an alchymist. Germany,
Holland, Italy, Spain, Poland, France, and England produced thousands
of obscure adepts, who supported themselves, in the pursuit of their
chimera, by the more profitable resources of astrology and divination.
The monarchs of Europe were no less persuaded than their subjects of
the possibility of discovering the philosopher's stone. Henry VI. and
Edward IV. of England encouraged alchymy. In Germany, the Emperors
Maximilian, Rodolph, and Frederic II. devoted much of their attention
to it; and every inferior potentate within their dominions imitated
their example. It was a common practice in Germany, among the nobles
and petty sovereigns, to invite an alchymist to take up his residence
among them, that they might confine him in a dungeon till he made gold
enough to pay millions for his ransom. Many poor wretches suffered
perpetual imprisonment in consequence. A similar fate appears to have
been intended by Edward II. for Raymond Lulli, who, upon the pretence
that he was thereby honoured, was accommodated with apartments in the
Tower of London. He found out in time the trick that was about to be
played him, and managed to make his escape, some of his biographers
say, by jumping into the Thames, and swimming to a vessel that lay
waiting to ceive him. In the sixteenth century, the same system was
pursued, as will be shown more fully in the life of Seton the
Cosmopolite, in the succeeding chapter.

The following is a catalogue of the chief authors upon alchymy,
who flourished during this epoch, and whose lives and adventures are
either unknown or are unworthy of more detailed notice. John Dowston,
an Englishman, lived in 1315, and wrote two treatises on the
philosopher's stone. Richard, or, as some call him, Robert, also an
Englishman, lived in 1330, and wrote a work entitled "Correctorium
Alchymiae," which was much esteemed till the time of Paracelsus. In
the same year lived Peter of Lombardy, who wrote what he called a
"Complete Treatise upon the Hermetic Science," an abridgement of which
was afterwards published by Lacini, a monk of Calabria. In 1330 the
most famous alchymist of Paris was one Odomare, whose work "De
Practica Magistri" was, for a long time, a hand-book among the
brethren of the science. John de Rupecissa, a French monk of the order
of St. Francis, flourished in 1357, and pretended to be a prophet as
well as an alchymist. Some of his prophecies were so disagreeable to
Pope Innocent VI, that the Pontiff determined to put a stop to them,
by locking up the prophet in the dungeons of the Vatican. It is
generally believed that he died there, though there is no evidence of
the fact. His chief works are the "Book of Light," the "Five
Essences," the "Heaven of Philosophers," and his grand work "De
Confectione Lapidis." He was not thought a shining light among the
adepts. Ortholani was another pretender, of whom nothing is known, but
that he exercised the arts of alchymy and astrology at Paris, shortly
before the time of Nicholas Flamel. His work on the practice of
alchymy was written in that city in 1358. Isaac of Holland wrote, it
is supposed, about this time; and his son also devoted himself to the
science. Nothing worth repeating is known of their lives. Boerhaave
speaks with commendation of many passages in their works, and
Paracelsus esteemed them highly: the chief are "De Triplici Ordine
Elixiris et Lapidis Theoria," printed at Berne in 1608; and "Mineralia
Opera, seu de Lapide Philosophico," printed at Middleburg in 1600.
They also wrote eight other works upon the same subject. Koffstky, a
Pole, wrote an alchymical treatise, entitled "The Tincture of
Minerals," about the year 1488. In this list of authors a royal name
must not be forgotten. Charles VI. of France, one of the most
credulous princes of the day, whose court absolutely swarmed with
alchymists, conjurers, astrologers, and quacks of every description,
made several attempts to discover the philosopher's stone, and thought
he knew so much about it, that he determined to enlighten the world
with a treatise. It is called the "Royal Work of Charles VI. of
France, and the Treasure of Philosophy." It is said to be the original
from which Nicholas Flamel took the idea of his "Desir Desire."
Lenglet du Fresnoy says it is very allegorical, and utterly
incomprehensible. For a more complete list of the hermetic
philosophers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the reader is
referred to the third volume of Lenglet's History already quoted.



During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the search for the
philosopher's stone was continued by thousands of the enthusiastic and
the credulous; but a great change was introduced during this period.
The eminent men who devoted themselves to the study, totally changed
its aspect, and referred to the possession of their wondrous stone and
elixir, not only the conversion of the base into the precious metals,
but the solution of all the difficulties of other sciences. They
pretended that by its means man would be brought into closer communion
with his Maker; that disease and sorrow would be banished from the
world; and that "the millions of spiritual beings who walk the earth
unseen" would be rendered visible, and become the friends, companions,
and instructors of mankind. In the seventeenth century more
especially, these poetical and fantastic doctrines excited the notice
of Europe; and from Germany, where they had been first disseminated by
Rosencreutz, spread into France and England, and ran away with the
sound judgment of many clever, but too enthusiastic, searchers for the
truth. Paracelsus, Dee, and many others of less note, were captivated
by the grace and beauty of the new mythology, which was arising to
adorn the literature of Europe. Most of the alchymists of the
sixteenth century, although ignorant of the Rosicrucians as a sect,


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