Modern Alchemy

Modern Alchemy Cover
That alchemy has been studied in modern times there can be no doubt. M. figuier in his "L'Alchimie et les Alchimistes", dealing with the subject of modern alchemy, as expressed by the initiates of the first half of the nineteenth century, states that many French alchemists of his time regarded the discoveries of modern science as merely so many evidences of the truth of the doctrines they embraced. Throughout Europe, he says, the positive alchemical doctrine had many adherents at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Thus a "vast association of alchemists", founded in Westphalia in 1790, continued to flourish in the year 1819, under the name of the "Hermetic Society". In 1837, an alchemist of Thuringia presented to the Societe Industrielle of Weimar a tincture which he averred would effect metallic transmutation. About the same time several French journals announced a public course of lectures on hermetic philosophy by a professor of the University of Munich. He further states that many Honoverian and Bavarian families pursued in common the search for the grand arcanum. Paris, however, was regarded as the alchemical Mecca. There dwelt many theoretical alchemists and "empirical adepts". The first pursued and arcanum through the medium of books, the other engaged in practical efforts to effect transmutation. M. Figuier states that in the forties of the last century he frequented the laboratory of a certain Monsieur L., which was the rendezvous of the alchemists in Paris. When Monsieur L`s pupils left the laboratory for the day, the modern adepts dropped in one by one, and Figuier relates how deeply impressed he was by the appearance and costumes of these strange men. In the daytime, he frequently encountered them in the public libraries, buried in gigantic folios, and in the evening they might be seen pacing the solitary bridges with eyes fixed in vague contemplation upon the first pale stars of night. A long cloak usually covered the meager limbs, and their untrimmed beards and matted locks lent them a wild appearance. They walked with a solemn and measured gait, and used the figures of speech employed by the medieval illumines. Their expression was generally a mixture of the most ardent hope and fixed despair. Among the adepts who sought the laboratory of Monsieur L., Figuier remarked especially a young man, in whose habits and language he could nothing in common with those of his strange companions. He confounded the wisdom of the alchemical adept with the tenets of the modern scientist in the most singular fashion, and meeting him one day at the gate of the Observatory, M. Figuier renewed the subject of their last discussion, deploring that " a man of his gifts could pursue the semblance of a chimera." Without replying, the young adept led him into the Observatory garden, and proceeded to reveal to him the mysteries of modern alchemical science. The young man proceeded to fix a limit to the researches of the modern alchemists. Gold, he said, according to the ancient authors, as three distinct properties: (1) that of resolving the baser metals into itself, and interchanging and metamorphosing all metals into one another; (2) the curing of afflictions and the prolongation of life; (3), as a 'spiritus mundi' to bring mankind into rapport with the supermundane spheres. Modern alchemists, he continued, reject the greater part of these ideas, especially those connected with spiritual contact. The object of modern alchemy might be reduced to the search for a substance having the power to transform and transmute all other substances into one another - in short, to discover that medium so well known to the alchemists of old and lost to us. This was a perfectly feasible proposition. In the four principal substances of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and azote, we have the tetractus of Pythagoras and the tetragram of the Chaldeans and Egyptians. All the sixty elements are referable to these original four. The ancient alchemical theory established the fact that all the metals are the same in their composition, that all are formed from sulphur and mercury, and that the difference between them is according to the proportion of these substances in their composition. Further, all the products of minerals present in their composition complete identity with those substances most opposed to them. Thus fulminating acid contains precisely the same quantity of carbon, oxygen, and azote as cyanic acid, and "cyanhydric" acid does not differ from formate ammoniac. This new property of matter is known as "isomerism". M. Figuier's friend then proceeds to quote support of his thesis and operations and experiments of M. Dumas, a celebrated French savant, as is well known to thous of Prout, and other English chemists of standing. Passing to consider the possibility of isomerism in elementary as well as in compound substances, the points out to M. Figuier that id the theory of isomerism can apply to such bodies, the transmutation of metals ceases to be a wild, unpractical dream, and becomes a scientific possibility, the transformation being brought about by a molecular rearrangement. Isomerism can be established in the case of compound substances by chemical analysis. showing the identity of their constituent parts. In the case of metals it can be proved by the comparison of the properties of isometric bodies with the properties of metals, in order to discover whether they have any common characteristics. Such experiments, he continued, had been conducted by M. Dumas, with the result the isometric substances were to be found to have equal equivalents, or equivalents which were exact multiples of one another. This characteristic is also a feature of metals. Gold and osmium have identical equivalents, as have platinum and iridium. The equivalent of cobalt is almost the same as that of nickel, and the semi-equivalent of tin is equal to the equivalent of the two preceding metals. M. Dumas. speaking before the British Association, had shown that when three simple bodies displayed great analogies in their properties, such as chlorine, bromide, and iodine, barium, strontium, and calcium, the chemical equivalent of the intermediate body is represented by the arithmetical mean between the equivalents of the other two. Such a statement well showed the isomerism of elementary substances, and proved that metals, however dissimilar in outward appearance, were composed of the same matter differently arranged and proportioned. This theory successfully demolishes the difficulties in the way of transmutation. Again, Dr. Prout says that the chemical equivalents of nearly all elemental substances are the multiples of one among them. Thus, if the equivalent of hydrogen be taken for the unit, the equivalent of every other substance will be an exact multiple of it - carbon will be represented by six, axote by fourteen, oxygen by sixteen, zink by thirty-two. But, pointed out M. Figuier's friend, if the molecular masses in compound substances have so simple a connection, does it not go to prove the all natural bodies are formed of one principle, differently arranged and condensed to produce all known compounds? If transmutation is thus theoretically possible, it only remains to show by practical experiment that it is strictly in accordance with chemical laws, and by no means inclines to the supernatural. At this juncture the young alchemist proceeded to liken the action of the Philosopher`s Stone on metals to that of a ferment on organic matter. When metals are melted and brought to red heat, a molecular change may be produced analogous to fermentation. Just as sugar, under the influence of a ferment, may be changed into lactic acid without altering its constituents, so metals can alter their character under the influence of the Philosopher`s Stone. The explanation of the latter case is no more difficult than that of the former. The ferment does not take any part in the chemical changes it brings about, and no satisfactory explanation of its effects can be found either in the laws of affinity or in the forces of electricity, light, or heat. As with the ferment, the required quantity of the Philosopher`s Stone is infinitesimal. Medicine, philosophy, every modern science was at one time a source of such errors and extravagances as are associated with medieval alchemy, but they are not therefore neglected and despised. Wherefore, then, should we be blind tot he scientific nature of transmutation? One of the foundations of alchemical theories was that minerals grew and developed in the earth, like organic things. It was always the aim of nature to produce gold, the most precious metal, but when circumstances were not favorable the baser metals resulted. The desire of the old alchemists was to surprise nature`s secrets, and thus attain the ability to do in a short period what nature takes years to accomplish. Nevertheless, the medieval alchemists appreciated the value of time in their experiments as modern alchemists never do. M. Figuier`s friend urged him not to condemn these exponents of the hermetic philosophy for their metaphysical tendencies, for, he said, there are facts in our sciences that can only be explained in that light. If, for instance, copper be placed in air or water, there will be no result, but if a touch of some acid be added, it will oxidize. The explanation is that "the acid provokes oxidation of the metal because it has an affinity for the oxide which tends to form." - a material fact most metaphysical in its production, and only explicable thereby. He concluded his argument with an appeal for tolerance towards the medieval alchemists, whose work is underrated because it is not properly understood. Taken from a 1960 reprint of "AN ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF OCCULTISM", by Lewis Spence; University Press, Hyde Park, New York. Originally Published in 1920, it is considered to be one of the most complete texts on the subject.

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