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Carolyn Dougherty
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I'm wondering if anyone here could point me to contemporary alchemical references to the idea that the purity/character/personality/motivation of the experimenter affects the outcome of his/her experiments.   I've found copious references to this idea in the secondary literature, and suggestions that alchemists often believed that those with impure motives could not succeed in their work, but the closest to a contemporary reference I've identified so far is an allusion to the Wisdom of Solomon ('into a wicked heart wisdom shall not enter') in Platte's Caveat to Alchemists.  Thanks in advance for any assistance you can offer.

Paul Ferguson
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Carolyn Dougherty wrote:
I'm wondering if anyone here could point me to contemporary alchemical references to the idea that the purity/character/personality/motivation of the experimenter affects the outcome of his/her experiments.   I've found copious references to this idea in the secondary literature, and suggestions that alchemists often believed that those with impure motives could not succeed in their work, but the closest to a contemporary reference I've identified so far is an allusion to the Wisdom of Solomon ('into a wicked heart wisdom shall not enter') in Platte's Caveat to Alchemists.  Thanks in advance for any assistance you can offer.

Hi,

I agree that modern writers on alchemy often rabbit on about this without quoting any sources.

One of the few references I can think of off the top of my head is Nicolas Valois (1475-1541), who wrote in his Cinq Livres:

'[Alchimie] est un secret réservé du bon Dieu pour ses Elus qui font ses divins commandements ; lesquels sont par lui choisis selon la pureté de leur cœur.'

'Alchemy is a secret reserved by the good Lord for His Elect who perform his divine commandments; which persons are chosen by him according to their purity of heart.'

Full text downloadable from here:
http://www.bnam.fr/spip.php?article311

Unfortunately I think a lot of nonsense is written about this generation of French alchemists so proceed with caution, but I think if you try and trace Nicolas's intellectual antecedents then you might find some more alchemists who aspired to be 'pure in heart'. De Caix's scholarly paper might be a useful starting-point:

http://alchimie-pratique.org/alchinormand.html

You have a nice cat :)

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/carolyn.dougherty/Carolyn_Dougherty/Photos_of_Morgan.html

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Carolyn Dougherty
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:) thank you--he's not the sharpest tool in the box, but he's very photogenic!

Thanks for the citation.  I hope the secondary sources aren't completely wrong about this, as I was planning to go somewhere with this notion.... 

I'll give an example of what I'm hoping to find (based on the fact that the secondary sources do discuss it)--a Renaissance agricultural experimenter describes a process he has invented for fertilising a field, 'mix this and that, act on it in such a way, apply to your field, and crops will grow large and strong, unless human sin intervenes to diminish the effectiveness of this formula.' 

In alchemical texts I do notice vague statements that 'only the wise can understand', but that's essentially a tautology; what I'm looking for/hoping to find is statements that one or more characteristics of the experimenter has an influence on the results of the experiment. 

This is not something that would only be true of alchemy:

http://www.albany.edu/~scifraud/data/sci_fraud_3224.html

[I'm distressed that the word 'fraud' appears in the URL as well as in the text--the book described on this web page has nothing to do with fraud, but rather with how individual characteristics can't be eliminated from the physical process of experimentation.]

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Re: "The Forbidden Book": There are strong resemblances in characterization and plotting to the novels of Charles Williams--not only the evil magus, mentioned in one of the linked reviews, but the women under his spell and endangered until a good person steps in and sees through the evil, sees that it is silly at root. The characters are "cardboard" (as was often said of Williams's), but there is some integrity to the resolution of the crisis, and of course real insight into a real book of early modern alchemy.

Carl Lavoie
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.
A fairly recent instance (1775) of this belief can be found at the end of the third chapter of Coutan’s Le Grand Œuvre dévoilé, page 32 :


http://books.google.ca/books?id=O1w6AAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false


“Je ne m’amuserai point ici à vous exhorter à faire un usage convenable des avantages de notre secret, car je suis très-persuadé qu’il sera toujours impénétrable à ceux dont l’intention n’est pas droite. Je dis plus, si, par le plus grand malheur qui puisse m’arriver, mon intention venoit à changer, & que je voulusse faire pour moi ou par rapport à moi, ce que je ne dois faire que pour les autres, devenu profane par cette vue purement humaine, la matiere se refuseroit à mon travail, & la nature à mes desseins.

.

Last edited on Sat Jul 7th, 2012 01:59 am by Carl Lavoie

Carolyn Dougherty
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Thanks Carl--it is a little later than what I'm looking for, but I do hope to point out as one of the arguments in this work that this idea of the physicality of experimentation has persisted up to current times despite it being inconsistent with the 'ideology' of non-quantum scientific method.

Chad_Engbers
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Carolyn,

I'm quite late to this party, I see, and I'm not sure my suggestions will be helpful to you any longer, but you might look at the George Ripley's Compound of Alchemy, which begins with a lengthy exhortation to repentance, humility, and holy living in general.

I don't have my copy close at hand, but as I recall Ripley does not come out and say that the moral failing in the experimenter will harm the experiment, but he at least strongly implies that moral rectitude is a prerequisite for doing good alchemy.

cae

Carolyn Dougherty
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Thanks Chad--I've actually (at the moment) gathered (I think) enough evidence from alchemical work to support the arguments I want to make, but will go look for Ripley anyway.  I'm now struggling with the scientific method section--Merton is proving most useful here so far.  My intention at this point is to turn this argument into a 20 minute talk to present at this conference:

http://ichstm2013.com/

Thanks for taking the time to help out.

Paul Ferguson
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Carolyn Dougherty wrote:
will go look for Ripley anyway. 


Available here:

http://www.alchemywebsite.com/tcbcompound.html

Carolyn Dougherty
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Excellent, thank you :) I admit that almost all the texts I've read and am quoting so far are prose rather than verse.

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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There's also Thomas Norton, Ordinal of Alchemy.  From the Early English text society edition, 1975, page 12 of the text, line 253 onwards:

And forasmoch that no man may hir funde

But only bi grace, she is holi of hir kynde.

Also it is a worke and cure dyvyne

Fowle copyr to make gold or syluere fyune.

No man may fynde such changis bu his thoght

Of diuers jyndis which goddish hondis wrought:

For goddis coniunccions man may not undo,

But if is grace consent fully therto

More lower on the page and page 13.  Norton is definitely of the opinion that you have to be a good holy person to achieve the stone. 

Hmm, did you write 'scientific method'?  That's a tricky subject in itself, almost as bad as alchemy.

 

Carolyn Dougherty
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Excellent, thank you.  It's turning out to be worse, as a matter of fact--as I mentioned, Merton's sociology of science is going where I want to go, but am now attempting to resort to GCSE revision material to get some kind of hard and fast definitions about who can and can't do science.  It's paradoxical in itself--on the one hand, there are dozens of 'science in the home' books for children, but on the other 'scientists' are often portrayed, intentionally or not, as a special breed of human.

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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Oh dear, that all sounds difficult.

As far as I am concerned, anyone can do science, but what they need is a theory and a means of testing it in the real world, i.e. science depends on the interaction of theory and practise to better understand how things work.  But that is my own understanding based on reading a number of books and other things and having a science degree, and is not so applicable to the late medieval period.  But people then were doing 'science' of a sort, just that the theory and important people's ideas ranked much higher than the experiments themselves. 

There are of course all sorts of cultural things about who can and can't do science, but alchemy at least has always been open to more than just an educated elite. 

Carolyn Dougherty
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What I'm writing about is the idea that modern science shares with both the Catholic and Anglican churches the idea that one's character, personality or spiritual development does not affect one's ability to perform experiments (or sacraments in the churches' case)--if you follow the rules you will get the appropriate results.  It seems, however, that a successful alchemist must be a particular kind of person--perhaps not a member of the educated elite, as you say, but he/she must possess the personal attributes the writers cited in this comment thread describe.  Alchemy shares this characteristic with craft work, as I'll discuss in my paper; it also shares this characteristic with science as it's actually done, rather than as it's presented in theory.

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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Ah okay, that makes sense.

It'll be interesting to see what you have when you are finished. 

Carolyn Dougherty
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I plan to post a link to it when it's done, but now that I've identified a conference to present it at that probably won't be for nearly a year.

Mike Zuber
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This topic reminded me of a very poignant discussion of this requirement that I came across quite a while ago and that I've just retrieved again: in Diederich Wessel Linden, Gründliche Chemische Anmerkungen ... über des Herrn von Welling Opus mago-cabbalisticum, und was von dessen Verbesserung der Metalle zu halten sey (Amsterdam and Leipzig, 1746; digitized by SUB Göttingen, http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?PPN626367492), pp. 60-64, the notion that alchemy is somehow intricately connected to theology is rejected and the idea that the alchemist ought to be holy and virtuous is poked fun at. Part of the argument runs like this: why on earth would God suddenly change the regular course of nature just to put off a poor, sinful alchemist?
This treatise was supposedly translated from the English (see title page) but I wasn't able to identify the original at the time. The author's name has an English ring to it (think Theodore Wesley Linden, maybe?), so if anyone can come up with a suggestion, that'd be much appreciated.
Of course, since Georg von Welling is chastised for voicing such silly notions, you might want to look into his Opus mago-cabbalisticum as well (http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id330289020).

Paul Ferguson
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Mike Zuber wrote:
This topic reminded me of a very poignant discussion of this requirement that I came across quite a while ago and that I've just retrieved again: in Diederich Wessel Linden, Gründliche Chemische Anmerkungen ... über des Herrn von Welling Opus mago-cabbalisticum, und was von dessen Verbesserung der Metalle zu halten sey (Amsterdam and Leipzig, 1746; digitized by SUB Göttingen, http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?PPN626367492), pp. 60-64, the notion that alchemy is somehow intricately connected to theology is rejected and the idea that the alchemist ought to be holy and virtuous is poked fun at. Part of the argument runs like this: why on earth would God suddenly change the regular course of nature just to put off a poor, sinful alchemist?
This treatise was supposedly translated from the English (see title page) but I wasn't able to identify the original at the time. The author's name has an English ring to it (think Theodore Wesley Linden, maybe?), so if anyone can come up with a suggestion, that'd be much appreciated.
Of course, since Georg von Welling is chastised for voicing such silly notions, you might want to look into his Opus mago-cabbalisticum as well (http://digital.slub-dresden.de/id330289020).


Hi Mike,

He was better known as Diederick Wessel Linden it would seem, and Googling for that name gives quite a few hits. Immortalised by Smollett in "Humphrey Clinker".

Something about him here:

http://thequackdoctor.com/index.php/the-etherial-oil-of-mustard-for-the-gout/

The reference to him in Smollett is in the letter of April 18:

"I was t'other day much diverted with a conversation that passed in the Pump-room, betwixt him and the famous Dr L—n, who is come to ply at the Well for patients. My uncle was complaining of the stink, occasioned by the vast quantity of mud and slime which the river leaves at low ebb under the windows of the Pumproom. He observed, that the exhalations arising from such a nuisance, could not but be prejudicial to the weak lungs of many consumptive patients, who came to drink the water. The Doctor overhearing this remark, made up to him, and assured him he was mistaken. He said, people in general were so misled by vulgar prejudices that philosophy was hardly sufficient to undeceive them. Then humming thrice, he assumed a most ridiculous solemnity of aspect, and entered into a learned investigation of the nature of stink. He observed, that stink, or stench, meant no more than a strong impression on the olfactory nerves; and might be applied to substances of the most opposite qualities; that in the Dutch language, stinken signifies the most agreeable perfume, as well as the most fetid odour, as appears in Van Vloudel's translation of Horace, in that beautiful ode, Quis multa gracilis, &c."

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Last edited on Fri Oct 5th, 2012 08:40 pm by Paul Ferguson

Carolyn Dougherty
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Belated thanks Mike and Paul--Linden definitely deserves a mention in my proposed paper. Just submitted the proposal today:

In this paper I consider how alchemists, early modern natural philosophers, contemporary scientists, and the established Church (Roman Catholic and Anglican) express the relationship between such personal character traits as purity and good intent and the efficacy of an individual’s experiments or actions. Both Catholic and Anglican doctrine explicitly state that the efficacy of a sacrament does not depend on the personal attributes of the priest who performs it; this doctrine contrasts with the writings of many early modern alchemists and natural philosophers who argue that the success of an experiment or the efficacy of an action depend at least in part on the personal characteristics of the experimenter or actor.

In this respect, the contemporary description of the scientific method is more consistent with the view of the Church than with that of early modern natural philosophers. Similarities between the views of the Church and of the modern scientific establishment appear to arise
from similarity in institutional structures, the role of individuals within large and complex organisations, and understanding of the relationship between the individual and the institution; in this respect the established Church and the modern scientific establishment have more in common with each other than with the early modern network of researchers that we traditionally consider the predecessor of the modern scientific establishment.

A consideration of these differing views of the effect of personal traits on experimental efficacy can help us develop a better understanding of how we have come to differentiate between ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’, the distinctive nature of craft knowledge, and the relationship between employer and employee in capitalist economies.

Cross your fingers!

Mike Zuber
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This sounds very interesting, and it's now my turn to say thanks--you inadvertently gave me an important clue. Though you don't mention the Lutheran church, it also held that the moral qualities of the priest did not affect the eucharist. Part of the background to this was the lack of a distinction between lived 'faith' and orthodox 'belief.' There were, however, some groups within Lutheranism (Schwenckfelders, Weigelians or spiritualists, separatist Pietists--all of them rejected by the establishment) that made this distinction and stressed conversion experiences and, consequently, the need for ministers to practise what they preached. In the long term I'll be trying to argue that alchemy was especially prominent among those groups, which absolutely ties in with the notion of the experimenter affecting the outcome of the experiment, or alchemical success as a divine gift for the truly faithful.
Best of luck with the proposal!

Carolyn Dougherty
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:) yes exactly! I'm glad my thought process is contributing to yours. An Anglican clergyman suggested that the difference between these notions in the Catholic/Anglican churches and the Protestant/dissenting sects may have to do with the fact that in the former the role of the clergy is to celebrate sacraments and perform the rituals that 'bring God to earth', while in the latter, since there is no necessity for the church itself to intercede with God, the clergy's role is more to preach, convert, and serve as an example to the congregation.

Paul Ferguson
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I'm currently reading Sabine Stuart's 'Discours Philosophique'. On page 62-3 of the second volume she says:

"In past centuries the confidence of one's friends, who were very different to those of today, was total, because good faith prevailed and this useful science [alchemy] was in all its lustre and you could communicate it to your friends quite openly. But now that the wickedest perfidy has chased good faith from its throne, he who is instructed in alchemy is often compelled to weave and dodge to avoid the ambushes of his enemies and his inevitable self-destruction. Yes, he is compelled to keep silent about the useful knowledge that he could communicate. In this way society is often deprived of great illumination. Nowadays therefore we can only master this science through the inspiration of almighty God. That is why he who loves Him with all his heart and fears Him must not despair of ever finding it, if he searches for it diligently, because it is easier to obtain it from almighty God than from wise men who, with good reason, fear the perfidy of the wicked..."

which I take to mean that the blocking-off of conventional secular alchemical learning-networks by a combination of religious intolerance and professional jealousy forced alchemists to become righteous mystics, possibly against their inclinations.

Maybe this has some bearing on your topic which I wish you great success with?

See:

http://www.e-rara.ch/zut/collections/content/pageview/3290817

Carolyn Dougherty
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Thanks! Interesting perspective...the mention of 'past centuries' implies that she herself didn't have any personal experience of this open and secular alchemical world, which may not really have existed, though I guess we do have some intimations that the concepts of alchemy were more 'mainstream' at other times and in other places than in Renaissance and early modern Europe. But from the little I know about the alchemists I'm writing about it seems more the other way around; most of those motivated at that time to pursue alchemical work were already religious nonconformists and 'righteous mystics' (though there are obviously exceptions who poorly fit that profile, like Boyle).

Carolyn Dougherty
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Quick update--the paper for which I'd posted the original question has been accepted for http://www.ichstm2013.com/, to be held in Manchester in late July--so now I'll be undertaking the writing in earnest, and will let youall know how it turns out.

Paul Ferguson
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Carolyn Dougherty wrote:
Quick update--the paper for which I'd posted the original question has been accepted for http://www.ichstm2013.com/, to be held in Manchester in late July--so now I'll be undertaking the writing in earnest, and will let youall know how it turns out.

Link doesn't work because of the comma. Try this:

http://www.ichstm2013.com/

...and best of luck with the paper :)

Carolyn Dougherty
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Thanks for the tech fix, and the good wishes!




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