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Ethan Allen Hitchcock.

Remarks upon alchemy and the alchemists : indicating a method of discovering the true nature of hermetic philosophy : and showing that the search after the philosopher's stone had not for its object the discovery of an agent for the transmutation of metals : being also an attempt to rescue from unde online

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Online LibraryEthan Allen HitchcockRemarks upon alchemy and the alchemists : indicating a method of discovering the true nature of hermetic philosophy : and showing that the search after the philosopher's stone had not for its object the discovery of an agent for the transmutation of metals : being also an attempt to rescue from unde → online text (page 11 of 16)
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ning or " base " of the " Great Work." When the I
man is by a due process and without violence i
brought into a Unity with himself, so that his intel- i
lect and will work in harmony, he is prepared to S
understand that higher Unity which is the perfec- i
tion of the whole of nature ; for w^iat is called the • j
" absolute," the " absolute perfection," and the per- ]
fection of nature, are one and the same ; which can t i
never be understood except by a process in nature } fi
itself proper to it. In no case is there any viola- 1 1
tion of nature, and, as these writers are perpetually j i
repeating, " men do not gather gi*apes of thorns, or S ,
figs of thistles." I

The whole of this epistle of Bernard is a grave
discussion upon the nature of man, and yet it is all
carried on in the symbolic language, no doubt per-
fectly understood by the adepts of the time, when
those who used the language had opportunities of
personal intercourse in which full explanations
could be made without interruption from the In-
quisition or its emissaries.

Occasionally some of the philosophers, and I
take it not the best of them, carried away not
precisely by philosophy (i. e. reason), but by a pas-
sion or enthusiasm for it, spoke too openly, and
brought themselves into danger, and many fell



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 195

, victims to the most relentless spirit that ever dis-
turbed the world.

Let any one, with the above explanations, read
the epistle of Bernard of Treves, the " good Treyi-
, san," and then turn to that farrago of nonsensical
; stories collected by the misemployed industry of
: Dr. Mackay, LL. D., as " Memoirs " of a man who
, spent his whole life in the pursuit of truth and
, goodness, and he must be struck with the absurd
position of the historian.
Dr. Mackay undertook to write " Memoirs of
; Extraordinary Popular Delusions." I would recom-
mend that, before publishing another edition of his
work, he would endeavor to understand the delusion
of almost the whole world in regard to the object
of the Alchemists, in which he himself has shared.
The Alchemists themselves were under no delusion,
but were the philosophers of the world when philos-
i ophy could not speak openly.

f To show the necessity of esoteric writing we
need only look at the fate of Vanini, and Bruno,
' and thousands of others, burned at the stake, or
j otherwise cruelly destroyed, by the ignorant priest-
hood of the time ; and why ? because

" Out of their heart's fulness they needs must gabble,
And show their thoughts and feelings to the rabble."

{Brooks, translation of Faust.)



196 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.

Of Vanini, Gorton says : —

" Being suspected of inculcating atheistical opin- I
ions, he was denounced, prosecuted, and condemned i
to have his tongue cut out, and to be burnt to' '
death, which sentence was executed February 19,i '
1619. At his trial, so far from denying the exist- i
ence of God, he took up a straw, and said, that it ;
obliged him to acknowledge the existence of one.' ]
Gramont, President of the Parliament of Toulouse,! i
gives an evidently prejudiced and sophisticated ac-i i
count of his deportment at his death, where it seems! '■
that, on refusing to put out his tongue for the exe-! i
cutioner to cut it off, it was torn from his mouth
with pincers, such being the Christianity of the
French District, which afterwards got up the trage-
dy of Galas. He suffered this cruel punishment in
the thirty-fourth year of his age. Mosheim remarks
that several learned and respectable writers regard
this unhappy man rather as the victim of bigotry
and prejudice than as a martyr to impiety and
atheism, and deny that his writings were so absurd
or so impious as they were said to be."

-Jordano Bruno was burnt at the stake at Venice
in the year 1600. After his arrest he was allowed
" eighty days," says history, " to retract his errors,"
but refused to deny his opinions, and suffered the



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 197

fate which Galileo escaped by admitting that the
world stood still, — which he might have said with
a clear conscience of the clerical world of his day,
for they would neither advance themselves, nor
were they disposed to allow others to do so.

Bruno addressed one of his works to Lord Cas-
telnau, then minister from the French government
at the court of England, in which he says : —

" If I had held the plough, most illustrious Lord,
or fed a flock, or cultivated a garden, or mended old
clothes, none would distinguish and few would re-
gard me ; fewer yet would reprehend me, and I
might easily become agreeable to everybody. But
now, for describing the Field of Nature ; for being
solicitous about the posture of the Soul ; for being
curious about the improvement of the understand-
ing, and for showing some skill about the faculties
of the mind : one man, as if I had an eye to him,
does menace me ; another, for being only observed,
does assault me ; for coming near this man, he bites
me ; and for laying hold of that other, he devours
me. 'T is not one who treats me in this manner,
nor are they a few ; they are many, and almost all.

" If you would know whence this doth proceed,
my Lord, the true reason is, that I am displeased
with the bulk of mankind ; I hate the vulgar rout ;
17*



198 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.



I despise the authority of the multitude, and am ■ \
enamored with one particular Lady. 'T is for her \-i
that I am free in servitude, content in pain, rich in ! i
necessity, and alive in death ; and therefore 't is M
likewise for her that I envy not those who are , i
slaves in the midst of liberty, who suffer pain in | i
their enjoyment of pleasure, who are poor though j I
overflowing with riches, and dead when they are \ \
reputed to live : for in their body they have the \ i
chain that pinches them, and in their judgment the i \
lethargy that kills them ; having neither generosity j j
to undertake, nor perseverance to succeed, norjj
splendor to illustrate their names. Hence it is, j
even for my passion for this Beauty, that, as being j j
weary, I draw not back my feet from the difficult
road, nor, as being lazy, hang down my hands from
the work that is before me ; I turn not my shoul-
ders, as grown desperate, to the enemy that con-
tends with me; nor, as dazzled, divert my eyes
from the divine object.

" In the mean time I know myself to be for the
most part accounted a Sophister, more desirous to
appear subtle, than to be really solid ; an ambitious
fellow, that studies rather to set up a new and false
sect, than to confirm the ancient and true doctrine;
a deceiver, that aims at purchasing brightness to






ALCHEMY AXD THE ALCHEMISTS. 199

his own fame, by engaging others in the darkness
of error ; a restless spirit, that overturns the edifice
of sound discipline, and makes himself a founder
of some hut of perversity.

" But, my Lord, so may all the holy deities de-
liver me from those that unjustly hate me ; so may
my own God be ever propitious to me ; so may the
governors of this our globe show me their favor ; so
may the stars furnish me with such a seed for the
field, and such a field for the seed, that the world
may reap the useful and glorious fruit of my labor,
by awakening the genius and opening the under-
standing of such as are deprived of sight : so may
all these things happen, I say, as it is most certain
that I neither feign nor pretend. If I err, I am far
from thinking that I do so ; and whether I speak or
write, I dispute not for the love of victory (for I
look upon all reputation and conquest to be hateful
to God, — to be most vile and dishonorable, —
without Truth) ; but, 't is for the love of true Wis-
dom, and by the studious admiration of this mis-
tress, that I fatigue, that I disquiet, that I torment
myself."

This is the spirit which the Inquisition and the
power of all the governments in Europe was em-
ployed for many centuries in endeavoring to sup-



200 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.



press ; and is it surprising that it should force into ! i
existence secret societies and mysterious modes of ; i
intercourse among those who, like Eyrenseus (Cos- , '
mopolita), were, as he says, " tossed up and down, i
and, as it were, beset with furies; nor can we," ;
says he, " suppose ourselves safe in any one place i
long. We travel through many countries just like i
vagabonds. Once I was forced to fly by night, 1
with exceeding great trouble, having changed my t
garments, shaved my head, put on false hair, and i i
altered my name, else I had fallen into the hands ' :
of wicked men that lay in wait for me," — mere-
ly, he tells us, because a ^^ rumor had spread" that
he was in possession of the Elixir; — which meant,
in this esoteric account he gives of his persecutions,
that he was " suspected," like Aponus, of entertain-
ing opinions adverse to the superstition of the time.
See the thirteenth chapter of Secrets Revealed, or
an Open Way to the Shut Palace of the King^
which now, in this age, may be interpreted, an
open way to the knowledge of God.

This work was written by Eyrenseus Philalethes
(Cosmopolita), and Dr. Mackay gravely informs us,
as a precious item of actual history, that he kept
some " philosophic powder in a little gold box,"
with " one grain (?) of which he could make five



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 201

hundred ducats, or a thousand rix dollars " ; that
"he generally made his projection upon Quicksil-
i'er," — with many more absurdities.

Eyreneeus no doubt made his projections upon
Quicksilver ; that is, he sought to improve man
through his conscience, as knowing that, "when
that is safe, all is safe ; but that lost, all is lost."

Everywhere in this secret philosophy we meet
with the same doctrine, which may be expressed in
the very brief sentences. Be just, be honest, be true,
be faithful ; Keep thy heart with all diligence, for
out of it are the issues of life.

Dr. Mackay, in his sketch of Arnold de Villa No-
va, a great name among the Alchemists, says : —

" In a very curious work by Monsieur Longeville
Harcouet, entitled. The History of Persons who
have lived several Centuries and then groion young
again^ there is a receipt said to have been given by
Arnold de Villaneuve, 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). [Formerly, gentle reader, cassia was
medicinally used as a purgative, and here signifies



202 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.



1 t

1



that cleansing process of which all of the Alche- i
mists write, a moral but not a physical cleansing. <
The receipt then proceeds:] Every night upon '
going to bed, he must put upon his Heart a plas- i
ter [this was indeed a funny way to make gold! a j )
plaster] composed of a certain quantity [doubtless ■
the exact size of "a piece of chalk"] of Oriental
saffron, red rose-leaves, sandal-wood, aloes, and am- i
ber, liquefied in oil of roses, and the best white wax. ! c.
In the morning he must take it off and enclose it 1 I
carefully in a leaden box till the next night, when | i
it must be again applied.' " j '■

Jt never occurred to Dr. Mackay, that whoever
would live happily, and prosperously, and healthily
too, must go to bed with a pure heart, which also
must be carefully preserved during the day.

This was the language by which men communi-
cated with each other all over Europe, and encour-
aged each other to live honestly, when, in the public
estimation, it was necessary rather to say a " cer-
tain " number of masses, and contribute largely to
an ignorant, debauched, and wicked priesthood,
armed with the civil power to crush all opposition
to the tyranny by which they enslaved the whole
population of Europe.

Has it no interest for this age to look back a few



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 203

hundred years, and see the shifts to which men \Yere
obliged to resort for the privilege of living with
simple honesty ? and is it surprising that this great
privilege should be so highly exalted, and described
as a stone of great price, — the Philosopher's Stone ?
What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
or what doth it profit a man, if he shall gain the
whole world, and yet live in a state of self-con-
demnation ?

The times are changed now, and it should be
openly declared that the Alchemists were not the
fools their foolish and silly literal readers have taken
them for ; but they were the wise men of their
times, who couched their wisdom in " dark say-
ings," calculated purposely to mystify and deceive
those who needed the " hangman's whip " to hold
them in order, and no less to delude and elude the
hangman too, who knew not how to discriminate
between the true man and the false.

The times, I say, are wonderfully changed, and
men can now declare their opinions openly and
freely, if only it be done with decency and sincerity.
Swedenborg, though he felt the convenience of writ-
ing mystically, said that God is a man; Fichte
says man is a God, while Hegel says both are one.
Comte publishes works of almost professed Athe-



204 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.

ism, and Feuerbach openly discusses the dogma
that Theology is Anthropology. Some few read
these books and take interest in them or throw
them aside, according to their taste or genius, while
some spectators look on and see in these various
efforts only the struggles of speculative men labor-
ing to solve the mysterious problem of man, the
Sphynx of the universe. None of these efforts, their
authors being left alone, have disturbed the order
of events : the sun rises and sets as before ; seed-
time and harvest have their due returns ; and it is
generally acknowledged that the trouble about free
opinions has arisen simply from the vain attempt
violently to interfere with and suppress them. The
opinion of the "sage of Monticello " is now almost \i
universally received, that error is not dangerous so | \
long as reason is left free to combat it. j/^

The real interest of man must be regarded as a |
power ever at work to secure itself; and this interest
must for ever be opposed to whatever is false and
mischievous, and must perpetually be employed in
discovering and establishing the true, since herein
alone is the true interest of man to be found.

Bishop Sherlock said that Christianity was as old
as the creation, and that the Gospel was a re-
publication of the Law of Nature. Most likely it



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 205

was a similar idea that led the Alchemists to claim
' that their Art was as old as the world ; which can
: only mean that man from the earliest time must
' always have been interested in himself, and anxious
: to discover "what was that good for the sons of
[ men, which they should do under the heaven all the
: days of their life." (Eccles. ii. 3.) " The Preacher"
' concluded that the whole duty of man is comprised
f in the injunction to fear God and obey the com-
mandments ; and this has been echoed in all parts
of the world, and in all ages. What, then, is to be
understood by the commandments of God ? When
the Preacher announced this law, the command-
ments in the New Testament had neither been
written nor declared, and when the new dispensa-
tion was announced, it is conceded on all hands
that some portion, at least, of the ceremonial Law
of the Old Testament was abrogated. Christ has
told us that the whole Law and the Prophets is
comprised in the love of God and of our neighbor;
— God, with all our might and strength and soul,
and our neighbor as ourself. By placing these in-
junctions side by side, we may see that the fear of
God must be consistent with the love of God, and
if we are to love God with all our heart, our love
of our neighbor must be included in it. It is but

18



206 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.



trifling, however, to be critical about words, when
we should be considering things.

There has been suggested a distinction between a j
law and a command of God, which seems impor- j :
tant. The Laws of Nature are by some regarded ji
as the eternal decrees of God, and, though unwrit- I '
ten, are the only certain measure of the commands \i
of God. The commands may be either verbal or \\
written. We have them as they were written by jl
men as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. The
La^vs always become known to us coupled with
conditions ; as, — to draw an example from physical
nature, — if an organic substance be subjected to
fire, it shall be destroyed. This is the law, and the
form of a command to protect us from it w^ould
interdict us from such exposure.

These two formulas, one of a law and the other
of a command, whether in regard to physical or
moral nature, may be thought to embrace or extend,
theoretically, to all things by which man may be
affected. From the nature of the case, a command
always presupposes a law, and may always be re-
ferred to it and tested by it. This is what I under-
stand by testing all doctrines by the " possibility of
nature." All commands must be supposed given
for our benefit, and have in view either to secure to



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 207

US some good, or to protect us from some evil, and
in either case because of some law, which, as the
eternal decree of God, must be, like the nature of
God, unalterable. We may disobey a command,
but we cannot violate a law. If we disobey a
command really founded on a law, we necessarily
suffer the penalty of the law ; which is only saying
that the course of nature never alters. If, now, we
construe the fear or the love of God as having refer-
ence to the Law, we may clearly see, theoretically,
the importance of the text, that all things work
together for good to them that love God; that is,
to those who love God's Law, and keep it in their
hearts, that is, in their conscience, which perpetually
" bears witness."

On this ground we may see the beauty of that
exquisite little volume published or brought into
notice by Luther, Theologia Germania, in which we
read that obedience to God is the only virtue ; dis-
obedience, the only sin ; — at least, this is what I
understand by testing doctrine also by " the possi-
bility of nature."

So far as man can know the Laiv, the command
based upon it will always . seem reasonable and
divine, and will find its sanction in the knowledge
of the Law ; and if " to keep the commandments "



208 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.

means to observe the Law^ there can be no question
as to our interest in it, and just as little, with those
who love God, of its imperative obligation ; but in
the latter case only will the obedience be free, the
will being subject to reason ; for the freedom of
man does not lie in his will, which is blind, but in
its subordination to reason and conscience.

But where the Law is not known, — the condi-
tion of nearly all mankind, and, as to some laws,
of the whole of mankind, — every man must more
or less act under constraint and be subject to a sec-
ondary power expressed verbally or in writing.

Now, when the commands are deemed to be first
in order, and the test of nature instead of being
tested by nature, and are urged as imperative inde-
pendently of all reference to the Law, and when,
too, all inquiries as to the latter are interdicted, —
this implies a state of hopeless intellectual slavery,
which the Law of Nature avenges in her own way
by the evils of which we read in past ages where
this absurd principle has prevailed.

Yet for those who do not or cannot satisfy them-
selves as to the Law, it seems but mere prudence
for them to observe the commands, if, only, these
can be known, it being a mere common-sense
presumption that they must originally have been



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 209

grounded upon experience and observation, espe-
cially when they have been the object of reverence
for ages.

As most men, from the condition of the world,
the claims of labor for sustenance, &c., are pre-
cluded from seeking a knowledge of many of the
laws under the influence of which they neverthe-
less live, it seems altogether necessary that they
should have the benefit of past experience, as ex-
pressed in the commands, and hence it appears as a
wrong to them to withdraw their reverence from it,
and thus loosen its hold over them, exposing them
thereby to manifold dangers.

This I take to be the real and permanent ground
for a Hermetic or Secret Philosophy, through which
men who have leisure may prosecute their inquiries
into nature, and communicate their discoveries and
opinions to each other, holding them always subject
to correction by the " higher Law," which is never
to be denied.

( Hermetic Philosophy does not differ from philos-
ophy in general, both having in view the discovery
of nature, except that the former has been confined
to those inquiries which relate more especially to
the moral conduct of man ; but here, the results of
this philosophy may not differ practically from those

18*



210 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.

depending upon traditional commands, the only-
difference being in the nature of the Sanction. The
Hermetic Philosopher obeys the command because
he knows the Law, — and he requires no other
authority, — just as he keeps out of the fire, as soon
as he knows its nature ; but those who are ignorant
of the Law are moved by the authority of tradition,
or they are influenced by hope or fear, or by some
other passion.

It is manifest that he who knows the Law has,
in that knowledge alone, an inexpressibly valuable
treasure ; for he obeys freely what is called reason,
which is nothing else but a knowledge of the Law,
and this again is the knowledge of God, all natural
laws being the eternal decrees of God, known and
acknowledged as such, from which it is impossible
to seduce them. Now the Law of Conscience being
the Law of God in the soul of man, obedience to it,
when truly known, becomes of the first importance
for all men, no matter under what circumstances
they may be placed ; for man cari never be placed
under conditions which release him from either its
presence or its authority.

But the knowledge of Law in general must
always be limited, and the Hermetic Philosopher
must always consider himself as engaged in a



ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS. 211

never-ending pursuit, though a pursuit ever leading
him cheerfully onward in proportion to the sincer-
ity and earnestness of his efforts.

Every man who enters upon this pursuit, that is,
who seeks knowledge by a direct study of nature,
disowning the claims of mere tradition, must pre-
pare, as Espagnet says, to make a long journey ;
for, indeed, he enters upon an endless task, in the
prosecution of which, however, he will continually
find pleasure and satisfaction, so long as his en-
deavors are guided exclusively by a conscientious
regard for the Truth, that is, for true Wisdom, —
the Lady so passionately loved by Bruno, who pre-
ferred being burned at the stake to denying his
Love. He must never, for an instant, depart from
this principle ; for, if he does, he must infallibly lose
his way, and may find his return next to impossi-
ble. Hence the perpetual cautions of the Alche-
mists, to wash and cleanse the matter of which the
Stone is to be made, since whatever other light be
followed, traditionary authority being neglected,
will necessarily prove an ignis faiuus, which in the
end will abandon those who depend upon it.

Here is the secret of all those lamentations over
the vanities of this world, as riches, honors, and
pleasures ; not because these things are wrong in



212 ALCHEMY AND THE ALCHEMISTS.

themselves, but because they are allowed the fore-
most place in the affections, to the suppression or
exclusion of the divine Law of the Conscience.
/ It can hardly be said that there is a doctrine of
Hermetic Philosophy ; it is properly a practice^ and
it is the practice of truth, justice, goodness, or, in
one time-honored, word, virtue ; the End being dis-
closed in the experience of the adept, but with the
continued presence of self-approbation, provided
this be under no circumstances compromised.

It was no doubt in view of this, that Sandivo-
gius was led to express the opinion, that "many
men of good consciences and affections secretly
enjoy this gift of God"; for, it must be admitted,
and it is worthy of all thankfulness, that every truly


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Online LibraryEthan Allen HitchcockRemarks upon alchemy and the alchemists : indicating a method of discovering the true nature of hermetic philosophy : and showing that the search after the philosopher's stone had not for its object the discovery of an agent for the transmutation of metals : being also an attempt to rescue from unde → online text (page 11 of 16)