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Alchemy discussion forum > Bibliography > New books about alchemy > Wamberg - Art and Alchemy special offer & Hughes in paperback

Wamberg - Art and Alchemy special offer & Hughes in paperback
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Paul Ferguson
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 Posted: Wed Apr 17th, 2013 11:54 am
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Not new, but on special offer at Oxbow:

http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/art-and-alchemy.html

See also the paperback edition of Hughes' 'Rise of Alchemy':

http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/rise-of-alchemy-in-fourteenth-century-england-34959.html

Please note, if you are in North America you go through a separate portal, here:

http://www.oxbowbooks.com/

Tom Willard
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 05:04 am
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Hughes's book on alchemy in the fourteenth-century England is quite good. I reviewed it for the 2013 issue of Mediaevistik, not yet available, and will send a copy of the review to anyone interested. The book is a sequel to his earlier study of alchemical and Arthurian themes in fifteenth-century England.

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 04:27 pm
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Tom Willard wrote: Hughes's book on alchemy in the fourteenth-century England is quite good.
I am interested in why you say that, because I have reached the opposite conclusion after reading the first couple of chapters on google.  He makes a lot of definite statements without any obvious source, e.g. the symbol from mercury is 3,000 years old (all I've read says the earlierst known source is 4th century AD), or stating that various works were written for Edward III, his mother and his queen. 

Or he makes a reasonable job of explaining a pseudo-Lullian approach to mercury and the quintessence, without any acknowledgement that, although there is a Catalan- England connection, there were other forms of alchemy around at the time, and even Michela Pereira says in her book on the Lullian Corpus that judging by Chaucer's canons yeomans tale, which is around late 1380's, one of the more respectable alchemists was pseudo-Arnald of Villanova. 

There certainly isn't anything that is new to the historian of alchemy, and, like his earlier book, I see only a bunch of possibilities dressed up as fact, written in the style of the pseudo-history books about the pyramids of Egypt and suchlike that we are surely all familiar with. 

adammclean
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 04:47 pm
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I found Hughes' first book on an alchemical theme, Arthurian Myths and Alchemy: The Kingship of Edward IV, in which he drew somewhat spurious links between the George Ripley alchemical material and historical events, rather disappointing. There he attempted to read the Ripley Scrolls far outside their alchemical context as if the symbolism reflected historical and state affairs.

I remember hearing him talk at two alchemical conferences, one in Aarhus in Denmark and the other at Norwich University, and was not favourably impressed by his knowledge of alchemical literature. I remember he entirely accepted the supposed dating of Nicolas Flamel, and did not appear to have read any alternative views on the nature of the Flamel myth.

So I trust that for his latest book, he has read a bit more widely and developed a grasp of the nature of alchemical writings so as to be able to read these in their proper context without merely trying to graft them onto external historical events.

I will buy a copy and see if his understanding of alchemy has deepened.

Last edited on Thu Apr 18th, 2013 04:49 pm by adammclean

Tom Willard
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 05:55 pm
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There is ambiguity in the title "The Rise of Alchemy in Fourteenth-Century England": the book is not about the rise alchemy per se, let alone in England, but about the increasing hold that alchemy had on the English imagination, especially in the courtly circles where Hughes has done most of his work thus far. He is not very interested in English alchemists, though he does mention John Dastin and John Doubleday, and is more concerned with the influence of continental writers like Petrus Bonus and John of Rupescissa than in what they actually wrote. He isn't always gulled by claims of pseudonymous authors; he knows, for example, that Llull could not have written in London and actually cites Pereirra's work on Arnold. What like likes to do best is write long paragraphs linking alchemical ideas to religious debates that had political implications in the time of Wycliff and Langland. He could have used a good editor in those long passages, where one often has to hunt after the antecedent of a pronoun, and he may wander a bit wide of the subject when he turns to matters like cosmology and iconography. His book won't be of much use to readers on this list, but for people interested in British history it should add to their sense of the climate in the courts of Edward III and Richard II.

Last edited on Thu Apr 18th, 2013 05:57 pm by Tom Willard

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 06:49 pm
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Yes, I'd agree that he shows indications of having read more deeply and widely in the alchemical literature.

But claiming in chapter 1 that Roger Bacon went to Spain and studied the works of Jabir, which fits with nothing I have ever read, does not suggest to me that his overall methodology has improved.

The thing is, you can link anything to anything else, but that doesn't mean there was a link.  I had that problem with the Arthurian one, and now after 2 chapters of this one alarm bells are going off.  And if he doesn't understand the alchemical texts, then how can he reliably suggest a link? 

There is an excerpt available online, being from chapter 7, and I think it typifies one or two of the issues I have:



Excerpt from Chapter 7: Alchemical Themes in the Kingship of Edward III

The alchemical texts, and presumably the advice of Edward’s physicians and counsellors, stressed how important it was for the young king in waiting to recognize his place in the divine alchemical work and to prove it by attaining, through daily regimen, a humoral balance that would result in just and moderate rule, bringing health and prosperity to the body politic.


So, if we are talking about Edward III here, that suggests that 1) he had physicians around him who were alchemists, and 2) that the idea that alchemical medicine was known about and trusted had somehow percolated throughout the culture of such men, and 3) that alchemy and galenic medicine were linked. 

There's also no link given to any references for it, and I hardly need to point out to you that alchemy as medicine is an idea that was developed later in the 14 century.  Either that or you start thinking that there was instantaneous transmission and more importantly, acceptance, of pseudo-Arnaldian alchemy in England.  And of course John of Ruperscissa, whose works explicitly linked alchemy with medicine, was writing in the 1350's, much later than the young Edward III. 

Certainly I don't feel like giving him any money by buying a copy new.  I might find one at some point remaindered or 2nd hand, just to see what he's done. 

Paul Ferguson
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 07:09 pm
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Alexander Guthrie Stewart wrote:


Certainly I don't feel like giving him any money by buying a copy new.  I might find one at some point remaindered or 2nd hand, just to see what he's done. 


No bargains to be had at the moment anyway:

http://www.isbns.gs/isbn/9781441181831?tab=all

ETA: 54 users on-line!!!!

Last edited on Thu Apr 18th, 2013 07:11 pm by Paul Ferguson

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 08:23 pm
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Ah, that's interesting, although it reminds me a great deal of one of the current problems with 2nd hand book buying - it's automated nowadays.  So the pricing is done by computer following a simplistic script, which looks at the last price paid and adds more.  This once led to a book being offered for, if I recall correctlym, over a million pounds on Amazon or the like. 

Even better, there's companies out there who are offering a book at a slightly higher price, even although they don't have it, then buying it from the cheapest seller if someone is foolish enough to buy from them.  They make their money from the arbitrage.  Which is all very well, but indicates that people are having trouble seeing which sellers are real and which are fake and which is actually the best price. 

Tom Willard
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 10:14 pm
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Well, Richard II was the dreamer and the unlikely successor to Edward III. The bulk of the discussion seems to be on the latter's reign. But you are right, of course, that there is no basis of the claims for medical benefits of alchemy when Edward was a young prince. He became king in 1327, three years before the earliest date for the "New Pearl of Great Price."

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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 Posted: Thu Apr 18th, 2013 10:38 pm
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Tom Willard wrote: Well, Richard II was the dreamer and the unlikely successor to Edward III. The bulk of the discussion seems to be on the latter's reign. But you are right, of course, that there is no basis of the claims for medical benefits of alchemy when Edward was a young prince. He became king in 1327, three years before the earliest date for the "New Pearl of Great Price."
Hmm, you've reminded me that I should read up on 14th century English history, thanks. 

Paul Ferguson
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 Posted: Fri Apr 19th, 2013 05:14 am
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Alexander Guthrie Stewart wrote:
Ah, that's interesting, although it reminds me a great deal of one of the current problems with 2nd hand book buying - it's automated nowadays.  So the pricing is done by computer following a simplistic script, which looks at the last price paid and adds more.  This once led to a book being offered for, if I recall correctlym, over a million pounds on Amazon or the like. 

Even better, there's companies out there who are offering a book at a slightly higher price, even although they don't have it, then buying it from the cheapest seller if someone is foolish enough to buy from them.  They make their money from the arbitrage.  Which is all very well, but indicates that people are having trouble seeing which sellers are real and which are fake and which is actually the best price. 


The ISBNS site is registered in the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (suffix .gs) and seems to assume we are all living in the Dominican Republic. You have to use the Settings tab in the top right-hand corner to adjust the settings to suit your own location. I must say I find the site very useful, even though I normally use Amazon for new books and Abebooks for second-hand.

Alexander Guthrie Stewart
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 Posted: Tue May 21st, 2013 05:57 pm
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I found the first 2 chapters or so of Hughes new book on google books preview last month and thought I'd read them. 

I've now found over a dozen outright errors of the history of alchemy, and numerous statements which I view with extreme suspiction but lack the knowledge to know whether any respectable scholars agree with them or not.   Not to mention a number of subject areas which are infelicitously discussed, rendering a proper understanding of them rather hard to gain.

Further details on request, but frankly I'd be disturbed to find such errors in an undergraduate essay, let alone a book by a lecturer.  By comparison Maxwell-Stuart's book is an exemplar. 


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