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fable of the philosopher's stone to be alluded to in the fable of the Argonauts ; and others find it in the book of Moses, as well as in other remote places. But, if the era of the art be examined by the test of history, it will lose much of its fancied antiquity. The manner in which Suidas accounts for the total silence of alchymy among the old writers is, that Dioclesian procured all the books of the ancient Egyptians to be burnt ; and that it was in these the great mysteries of chemistry were contained.* Kercher asserts, that the theory of the philosopher's stone is delivered at large in the table of Hermes, and the ancient Egyptians were not ignorant of the art, but declined to prosecute it.

should know what happened eight hundred years before him? To wlicb Borrichius the Dane, answers, that he had learnt it of Eudemus, Helladius, Zozimus, Pamphilius, and others, as Suidas himself relates.

* It does not appear that the Egyptians transmuted gold; they had ways of separating it from all kinds of bodies, from the very mud of the Nile, and stones of all kinds : but, adds Kercher, these secrets were never written down, or made public, but confined to the royal family, and handed down traditionally from father to son.




Having so far explained the fragile basis on which human knowledge may be said to have depended, during the obscurity and barbarity of the middle ages, when the

progress of true knowledge was obstructed by the most absurd fancies, and puerile conceits : when conjectures, caprices, and dreams supplied the place of the most useful sciences, and of the most important truths, the subsequent illustrative reflections may serve as a guide to direct the attention of the reader to other delusions, which arose out of the general chaos.

Chemistry, a science so essentially requisite to explain the phenomena of known and unknown substances, was studied chiefly by jugglers and fanatics ;-their systems, replete with metaphysical nonsense, and composed of the most crude and heterogeneous materials, served rather to nourish superstition than to establish facts, and illustrate useful truths. Universal remedies, in various forms, met with strenuous advocates and deluded consumers. The path of accurate observation and experiment was forsaken : instead of penetrating into the mysterious recesses of nature, they bewildered themselves in the labyrinth of fanciful speculation ; they overstepped the bounds of good sense, modesty, and truth ; and the blind led the blind. The prolongation of life too was no longer sought for in a manner agreeable to the dictates of nature ; even this interesting branch of human pursuits was rendered subservient to chemistry, or rather to the confused system of alchymy. Original matter was considered as the elementary cause of all beings, by which they expected literally to work miracles, to transmute the base into noble metals, to metamorphose man in his animal state by chemical processes, to render him more durable, and to secure him against early decline and dissolution. Millions of vessels, retorts, and phials, were either exposed to the action of the most violent artificial heat, or to the natural warmth of the sun ; or else they were buried in some dunghill or other fetid mass, for the purpose of attracting this original matter, or obtaining it from putrescible substances.

As the meta called gold always bore the highest value, these crude philosophers concluded, from a ridiculous analogy, that its value with respect to the preservation of health and the cure of diseases, must likewise

that of all other remedies. The nugatory art of dissolving it, so as to render it potable, and to prevent it from again being converted into metal, employed a multitude of busy idiots, not only in concealed corners, but in the splendid labo


raties of the great. Sovereigns, magistrates, counsellors, and impostors, struck with the common frenzy, entered into friendship and alliance, formed private fraternities, and sometimes proceeded to such a pitch of extravagance, as to involve themselves and their posterity in ruinous debts.

The real object of many was, doubtless, to gratify their avarice and desire of aggrandisement : although this sinister motive was concealed under the specious pretext of searching for a remedy that should serve as a tincture of life, both for the healthy and diseased, yet some among these whimsical mortals were actuated by more honourable motives, zealous only for the interest of truth, and the well-being of their fellow creatures.

The common people, in some countries, particularly Italy, Germany, and France often denied themselves the common necessaries of life, to save as much as would purchase a few drops of the tincture of gold, which was offered for sale by some su. perstitious or fraudulent chemist : and so thoroughly persuaded were they of the efficacy of this remedy, that it afforded them in every instance the most confident and only hope of recovery.

These beneficial effects were positively promised, but were looked for in vain.

All subduing death would not submit to be bribed with gold, and disease refused to hold any intercourse with that powerful deity, who presides over the industry and commerce of all nations.

As, however, these diversified and almost numberless experiments were frequently productive of useful inventions in arts and manufactures ; and, as many chemical remedies of real value were thereby accidentally discovered, great and almost general attention to those bold projectors was constantly kept alive and excited. Indeed, we are indebted to their curious observations, or rather perhaps to chance, for several valuable medicines, the excellence of which cannot be disputed, but which, nevertheless, require more precaution in their use and application, and more perspicuity and diligence in investigating their nature and properties than the original preparers of such articles were able or willing to afford. All their endeavours to prolong life, by artificial means, could not be attended with beneficial effects ; and the application of the remedies thus contrived, must necessarily, in many cases, have proved

detrimental to the health of the patient.

In proof of this assertion, it will be sufficient to give a slight sketch of the different views and opinions of the gold-makers, Rosicrucians, manufacturers of astralian salts, drops of life, and tinctures of gold, hunters after the philosopher's stone, and other equally absurd chimera,

Some of these extravagant enthusiasts fancied that life resembled a flame, from which the body derived warmth, spirit, and animation. They endeavoured to cherish and increase the flame, and supplied the body with materials to feed it, as we pour oil into a burning lamp. Others imagined they had discovered something invisible and incorporeal in the air, that important medium which supports the life

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