In a sermon on Psalm 51:7--"Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow"--John Donne tries to explain why David wants to be whiter than snow as opposed to as white as snow, and in doing so, Donne waxes alchemical:
Therefore David who was metall tried seven times in the fire, and desired to be such gold as might be laid up in Gods Treasury, might consider, that in transmutation of metals, it is not enough to come to a calcination, or a liquefaction of the metall, (that must be done) nor to an Ablution, to sever drosse from pure, nor to a Transmutation, to make it a better metall, but there must be a Fixion, a settling thereof, so that it shall not evaporate into nothing, nor returne to his former nature. Therefore he saw that he needed not only a liquefaction, a melting into teares, nor only an Ablution, and a Transmutation, those he had by this purging and washing… but he needed Fixionem, an establishment, which the comparison of Snow afforded not. (Sermons V.15.676ff.)
At first glance, it's an odd explanation, because David seems to be talking about color ("whiter") and Donne seems to be talking about physical state. But I wonder if Donne is thinking about the color itself alchemically. I've read of the nigredo being "blacker than black"; I wonder if Donne is thinking that the soul David needs is "whiter than white (snow)."
And I'm wondering whether phrases that follow that formula--"golder than gold"?--appear in the writings of real alchemists?
Some alchemists in the medieval period actually state that their recipes and instructions are for making really good gold, better than natural gold because it is more perfect and gold-like and can transmit this property to more metal than natural gold.
It would be nice to see the bit of quote about whiter than snow, although I suppose snow is usually transitory, as in it melts, so one wants your substance to last longer than snow.