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The Corpuscular Transmutational Theory of Eirenaeus Philalethes

  • William R. Newman
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Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 140)

Abstract

Among the most influential works of seventeenth-century alchemy the treatises attributed to “Eirenaeus Philalethes Cosmopolita” surely deserve a prominent place. As I have shown elsewhere, several works attributed to this Philalethes were actually written by an American alchemist educated at Harvard, George Starkey.1 Starkey was born in 1628 in Bermuda, then considered part of “America”: he entered Harvard College in 1643 and graduated with an A.B. in 1646.2 In 1650 Starkey immigrated to London, where he became a member of the scientific circle centred around Samuel Hartlib. In the early 1650’s he performed a series of experiments with Robert Boyle, who was also a member of the Hartlib group. During this same period, Starkey wrote a number of works of major importance under the pseudonym of Eirenaeus Philalethes—among these were the Introitus apertus ad occlusum regis palatium and the closely related Tractatus de metallorum metamorphosi: both texts were published after Starkey’s death during the great London plague of 1665.

Keywords

Base Metal Specific Weight Pure Substance Natural Gold Water Particle 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    William R. Newman, “Prophecy and Alchemy: The Origin of Eirenaeus Philalethes,” Ambix, Vol. 37, Part 3 (1990), pp. 97–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Newman, Ibid., p. 100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    De metallorum transmutatione ad virum nobilissimum et amplissimum Ioelem Langelottum... Epistola Danielis Georg. Morhofi professons Kiloniensis, in Manget, BCC I, p. 188. Lynn Thorndike gives the original printing as 1673: Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. 8 (New York, 1958), p. 370, n. 97.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Ronald Sterne Wilkinson, “The Problem of the Identity of Eirenaeus Philalethes,” Ambix, 12 (1964), pp. 28–29.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Westfall, Never at Rest (n. 9), pp. 285-99. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy or “The Hunting of the Greene Lyon” (Cambridge, 1975), pp. 175-82, et sparsim. Karin Figala, “Die exakte Alchemie von Isaac Newton”, Verhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel, vol. 94 (1984), pp. 157–227, and “Newton as Alchemist,” History of Science, vol. 15 (1977), pp. 102-37.Google Scholar
  6. 45.
    Philalethes, Tractatus de metallorum metamorphosi, in Manget, BCC, II, p.677, where the author quotes from Bernard’s Epistola (Manget BCC II, p. 399) without acknowledgement. The text published by B.J.T. Dobbs as the Clavis derives the principle that only materials of like consanguinity may be combined from the Epistola: B. J. T. Dobbs, The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy (n. 10), p. 252. The same passage may be found in William R. Newman, “Newton’s Clavis as Starkey’s Key,” Isis, 78 (1987), p. 573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 54.
    Kurd Lasswitz, Geschichte der Atomistik (Hamburg and Leipzig, 1890), reprinted by Olms, 1963, Vol. I, pp. 343-51. Two other authors who have brought attention to Van Helmont’s corpuscular tendencies are the following: J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (London, 1961), II, p. 224, and Reijer Hooykaas, The Concept of Element (Trans. of Het Begrip Element), H. H. Kubbinga, trans. (privately printed, 1983?), pp. 167-72.Google Scholar
  8. 77.
    Wilhelm Haberling, “Alexander von Suchten, Ein Danziger Arzt und Dichter des 16. Jahrhunderts,” Zeitschrift des Westpreussischen Geschichtsvereins, Vol. 69, 1929, pp. 177–230.Google Scholar
  9. 85.
    Christoph Meinel, “Early Seventeenth-Century Atomism: Theory, Epistemology, and the Insufficiency of Experiment,” Isis (1988), vol. 79, pp. 68–103. See also Lasswitz and Hooykaas, in the works cited earlier. All of these authors, while drawing attention to the large number of chemists who had corpuscular theories in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, fail to observe that the source of this tradition was in all likelihood the Summa perfections of Geber and its dependants, such as Bernard of Trier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

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  • William R. Newman

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