The Corpuscular Transmutational Theory of Eirenaeus Philalethes

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


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.


Base Metal Specific Weight Pure Substance Natural Gold Water Particle 
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  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.
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    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
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1994

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  • William R. Newman

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