Philosophers are sworn, aye, every one,
That they will thus discover it to none,
Nor in a book will write it for men here;
For unto Christ it is so lief and dear
That He wills that it not discovered be,
Except where it’s pleasing to his deity
Man to inspire, and also, to defend
Whom that he will; and lo, this is the end.
And thus do I conclude, since God in heaven
Wills that philosophers shall not say even
How any man may come upon that stone,
I say, as for the best, let it alone.
For whoso makes of God his adversary,
To work out anything that is contrary
To what he wills, he’ll surely never thrive.
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale:
From The Canterbury Tales (by Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1343 – 25 October 1400).
Why is the recipe of the philosopher’s stone still a secret?
“It is scarcely surprising that in the atmosphere of superstition and ignorance which reigned in Europe during the middle ages Bacon’s achievements were attributed to his communication with devils, and that his fame spread through Western Europe not as a savant, but as a great magician! His great services to humanity were met with censure, not gratitude, and to the Church his teachings seemed particularly pernicious. She accordingly took her place as one of his foremost adversaries, and even the friars of his own order refused his writings a place in their library. His persecutions culminated in 1279 in imprisonment and a forced repentance of his labours in the cause of art and science.”
Alchemy Rediscovered and Restored: Part I: Historical: Chapter VII: English Alchemists: by A. Cockren, 1940.
Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1294) suffered the suspicion of others. There are other views though: some feel that Middle Age society was more forgiving of scientific endeavour.
“From the bottom of our hearts we ought to thank the modest men who held in their hands the magical Emerald Formula that makes a man master of the world, a formula which they took as much trouble to hide as they had taken to discover it. For however dazzling and bright the obverse of the alchemical medallion, its reverse is dark as night. The way of good is the same as the way of evil, and when a man has crossed the threshold of knowledge, he has more intelligence but no more capacity for love.”
History of Alchemy: Mystics and Seers of All Ages by Reginald Merton (1935)
In the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales, the alchemist’s man tells the story of their road to ruin. False alchemists would conceal silver or gold in the tip of a hollow wand and seal it with wax. They would then use the wand to stir a crucible of hot material to be transmuted. The wax would melt and the gold or silver shavings would fall into the crucible and melt into a lump to be found at the end of the process.
A hollow stick – take heed, sirs, and beware! –
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale. From The Canterbury Tales (by Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1343 – 25 October 1400).
In end of which an ounce was, and no more,
Of silver filings put, all as before
Within the coal, and stopped with wax, a bit,
To keep the filings in the hole of it.
And while the priest was busy, as I say,
This canon, drawing close, got in his way,
And unobserved he threw the powder in
Just as before the devil from his skin
Strip him, I pray to God, for lies he wrought;
For he was ever false in deed and thought;
And with his stick, above the crucible,
Arranged for knavish trickery so well,
He stirred the coals until to melt began
The thin wax in the fire, as every man,
Except a fool, knows well it must, sans doubt,
And all that was within the stick slipped out,
And quickly in the crucible it fell.
“…It is true that the theatres never now carry me away, nor do I now care to know the courses of the stars, nor hath my soul at any time consulted departed spirits; all sacrilegious oaths I abhor. O Lord my God, to whom I owe all humble and single-hearted service, with what subtlety of suggestion does the enemy influence me to require some sign from Thee! But by our King, and by our pure and chaste country Jerusalem, I beseech Thee, that as any consenting unto such thoughts is far from me, so may it always be farther and farther. But when I entreat Thee for the salvation of any, the end I aim at is far otherwise, and Thou who doest what Thou wilt, givest and wilt give me willingly to follow Thee.”
Confessions, Book 10, by Augustine (5th century), a digital book in the International School of Theology’s Cyber Library.
…by our pure and chaste country Jerusalem!
“The preparation of silver and gold. Diocletian sought out and burned books about this.
[It is said] that due to the Egyptians’ revolting behavior Diocletian treated them harshly and murderously. After seeking out the books written by the ancient [Egyptians] concerning the alchemy of gold and silver, he burned them so that the Egyptians would no longer have wealth from such a technique, nor would their surfeit of money in the future embolden them against the Romans.”
Suda On Line: Byzantine Lexicography: Emperor Diocletian burned Alchemy books around 292-296. Adler number: chi,280
“Art about alchemy was popular among the middle class of northern Europe from the late 1600s through much of the 1800s, and part of that popularity was making fun of the alchemist. He is sometimes shown setting the house on fire. Often, he is poor. Worse still, he is wasting the family income on his ill-fated experiments. In some of the paintings, a thin, frail wife holding a hungry child cowers in the background. For well-off, serious businessmen of the time, these paintings showed the kind of life dreamers led, and all the misery they caused.”
Chemical Heritage Foundation – Molecular Milestones: Alchemy Attracted the Great Pioneers of Modern Science Neil Gussman. (Previously at http://www.chemheritage.org/explore/milestone_alchemy.html)
“With the Reformation another spirit arose and legends took a different form. In the Protestant world the orthodox magic of the Roman Church lost its saving power and was regarded as no less diabolic than all other black art. He was irretrievably lost who had once given over his soul to magic and the devil (and the devil was at this time, as we know, a very real personage—real enough to have an inkpot hurled at his head by Luther).”
The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Faust-Legend and Goethe’s “Faust,” by H. B. Cotterill.
The Protestant Church didn’t have the spiritual authority to intercede because Protestantism doesn’t claim that power.
“Thus, as science steadily continued to uncover and rationalize the clockwork of the universe, founded on its own materialistic metaphysics, Alchemy was left deprived of its chemical and medical connections — but still incurably burdened by them. Reduced to an arcane philosophical system, poorly connected to the material world, it suffered the common fate of other esoteric disciplines such as astrology and Kabbalah: excluded from university curricula, shunned by its former patrons, ostracized by scientists, and commonly viewed as the epitome of charlatanism and superstition…it is sobering to observe how a discipline that held so much intellectual and material prestige, for more than two thousand years, could disappear so easily from the universe of Western thought.”
Alchemy in history: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“There was a hissing sound and a slight effervescence, and after fifteen minutes, Helvetius found that the lead had been transformed into the finest gold, which on cooling, glittered and shone as gold indeed. A goldsmith to whom he took this declared it to be the purest gold that he had ever seen and offered to buy it at fifty florins per ounce. Amongst others, the Controller of the Mint came to examine the gold and asked that a small part might be placed at his disposal for examination. Being put through the tests with aqua fortis and antimony it was pronounced pure gold of the finest quality.”
History of Alchemy from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times: Alchemy Rediscovered and Restored, by A. Cockren (1940).
17th century alchemist John Frederick Helvetius (Johann Friedrich Schweitzer(1625-1709)), Dutch physician and alchemical writer, claimed to have carried out the transmutation of lead into gold.