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in Europe during the twelfth century; and in the thirteenth and fourteenth, the strongest and most active minds of England, France, and Germany wasted their energies in the pursuit of this empty vision.
The vulgar superstition of their barbarous contemporaries, and the wilful exaggeration of their disciples and successors, has attributed all the absurd hallucinations of the Rosicrucian school to the eminent men who originally professed Alchymy. The story of Roger Bacon and his oracular brazen bust is well known. Albertus Magnus is said to have possessed the secret of animal life, to have constructed a speaking image, and to have adorned his gardens, in the depth of winter, with the warmth and vegetation of spring. Arnold de Villeneuve is accused of pretensions to the power of conferring immortality. Heidenberg of Trittheim was suspected of necromancy, and was believed to have evoked the spirit of Mary of Burgundy, at the request of her widowed husband the Emperor Maximilian. The vanity or policy of the Alchymists may have induced them to countenance these foolish tales ; and traces of empirical deception are certainly to be found in the history of some among them. But their serious belief and hopes of success appear to have been of a very diffe. rent nature. They were, as Voltaire has justly remarked of one of their number, de l'or encroûté des ordures de leur siècle,'men sincerely desirous to discover truth and to benefit their fellow-creatures, and exerting no inconsiderable powers in the effort, but baffled and bewildered by the popular delusions of a barbarous age. They all appear to have sought physical truth by persevering and ingenious experiment; and many of the most eminent among them--as Raymond Lully and Bernard of Treves -pointedly disclaimed the shadowy honours of magic, and were wisely satisfied with the safer and more solid reputation of natural science. It is impossible to name the last-mentioned philosopher, without pausing to glance for a moment at his career of heroic, though useless and hopeless, self-sacrifice-a career which no doubt resembled that of many ingenious and highminded men among his contemporaries. At the early age of fourteen, Bernard of Treves devoted himself to what was then considered the most noble and useful of pursuits---Alchymy and the transmutation of metals. He persevered for nearly seventy years in its study-he made himself master of all its empty mysteries—he travelled over the whole continent of Europe, besides Egypt, Syria, and Persia, in the course of his researches--and he wasted an ampie fortune in a series of costly experiments. But neither age, nor poverty, nor the continual failure of his favourite hopes, could chill his enthusiasm or embitter his kind
and generous nature. During his long life he never but once felt tempted to abandon his object; and at the age of eighty he had courage to recommence his whole course of laborious study, in the hope of discovering some radical error in his experiments. To the last his liberal charity was as celebrated as his scientific zeal; and though, with Izaak Walton, he gave precedence to his own fraternity in the distribution of his bounty, there is no doubt that, like the kind-hearted angler, he was willing, on occasion, to extend it to all honest men, It is pleasing to find that he ended his eventful career in comfort and honour, and that he was long remembered by his grateful brethren under the name of the good Trevisan. His admirers asserted, though we fear with more poetical justice than strict accuracy, that his persevering labours were at last crowned with complete success, though too late to afford him the opportunity of making public his discovery. Be this as it may, he required nothing but a better cause to place him by the side of those devoted philosophers who have lived a life of toil and hardship that they might benefit mankind; and we think it would be hard to deny him this dear-bought honour, because he was the dupe of a delusion which, a century and a half after his death, imposed upon Francis Bacon.
In the mean time the character of Alchymy was undergoing a great change. The Church of Rome, pursuing that singular and fatal policy which afterwards so disastrously associated religious orthodoxy with intellectual stagnation---a policy which we do not insist on ascribing to the nature of her peculiar creed, and of which we have no doubt that every enlightened Roman Catholic now disapproves-declared Alchymy an unlawful science. Early in the fourteenth century, Pietro d'Apone, a distinguished Italian adept, was arrested and put to the torture on a charge of sorcery, and perished in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Several of his most celebrated successors narrowly escaped the same, or a still worse fate. The ignorant and credulous rapacity of the laity was still more dangerous than the bigotry of the clergy. It was, as our readers are well aware, a favourite financial expedient, among the predatory barons of feudal times, to ensnare a rich Jew, or even a stray Lombard or Fleming, in some solitary fortress, and there to torment the prisoner-whether by successively drawing his teeth, as was the practice of King John ; or by roasting him alive, according to the more expeditious plan preferred by the Earl of Cassilis-until he surrendered his whole substance by way of ransom. It is easy to see how obnoxious a professor of Alchymy was to this process. The unhappy philosopher was a caput lupinum, who had too much to dread from the law to invoke its interference; and whom his most zealous
friends—if he had any—could not venture openly to protect. It was scarcely worth while to torture or starve him ; for a little interest with the nearest Bishop could at any moment ensure hiş being publicly burnt to ashes, and that with the consent and applause of the whole diocess. Even scruples of conscience, had such scruples been common among the : Front-de-Bæufs' and • Bois-Guilberts' of the age, would at once have been silenced by the reflection, that the robbery of a heretic and a sorcerer, by a Christian knight, was clearly a meritorious spoiling of the Egyptians. Then what an inestimable—what an inexhaustible prize was such an Egyptian as this ! What were all the treasures which Thebes and Memphis could lavish upon the departing Israelites, when compared with what might be expect-, ed by the fortunate man who had a domestic coining machine in constant play; and who could never want gold while an ounce of lead or iron remained on his castle roof? Every one is familiar with the ludicrously painful picture which a distinguished living novelist has drawn of the career of a philosopher in the dark ages—tormented by the prodigal sovereign to coin gold and silver-by the warlike noble to invent military engines— by the ambitious courtier to draw horoscopes and cast nativities--by the frail beauty to compose philters and rejuvenating potions----by the intriguing statesman to toil at subtle poisons and sympathetic images ;-harassed, accused, and neglected by all in turn, and finally murdered by their bigoted abhorrence or their savage disappointment. Many a student, less rational perhaps, but not less zealous or less single-minded, than poor Adam Warner, has endured his life of thankless toil, and his unpitied death, in a cause which could not even ensure the gratitude of posterity.
The alteration which undoubtedly took place about the end of the fifteenth century, in the pursuits and pretensions of the Alchymists, may perhaps be ascribed to these absurd and cruel
proceedings. Worthless as that science in its best days was, and could not but be, there can be no doubt that the change of which we speak was a most unfortunate one. The persecutions by which the Alchymist was assailed, were so far from discouraging the popular belief in his powers, that they confirmed it by the express authority of the Church. His prospects of gain were therefore as hopeful as ever, it he had the courage to confront the chance of being burned alive. Thus Alchymy, originally à harmless chimera, became the resource of needy and desperate men-men who were willing to endure the abhorrence of their fellow-creatures, and the menaces of the law, for the gold which they could extort from the timid and the credulous. The Alchymist, once an honoured sage, whom the strictest Catholic regarded
with awe if not with admiration, became first a detested sorcerer, alternately the tool and the victim of lawless power, and next a common vagabond and charlatan ;-just as the petty sovereign, whose forays swept a whole province, degenerated first to the wandering mercenary captain, and lastly to the lurking highway
Dousterswivel and Cagliostro were the degraded successors of Geber and Alfarabi, as Turpin was of the ancient Buccleuchs and Fairniebirsts. But Alchymy, unlike robbery, became more pernicious in proportion as it became perilous and disgraceful. In the eighth century the Alchymist rejected with scorn the magnificent hospitality of the Caliph; in the eighteenth, he was glad to prey upon the credulity of a pedantic country gentleman or a ruined gambler.
It was not to be expected that a race of mercenary empirics could feel much interest in the science, such as it was, of Alchymy. Accordingly we find that the pretensions of the later adepts were ridiculously exaggerated, and conveyed in a jargon which neither they nor any other human being could explain or comprehend. Its modern professors, says Mr Mackay,
totally changed its aspect, and referred to the possession of their wondrous stone and elixir, not only the conversion of the base into the precious metals, but the solution of all the difficulties • of other sciences. They pretended that, by its means, men
would be brought into closer communion with their Maker; " that disease and sorrow would be banished from the world; ' and that the “millions of spiritual beings” who walk the earth * unseen, would be rendered visible, and become the friends, ' companions, and instructors of mankind.' Cornelius Agrippa pretended that he was constantly accompanied by a demon, in the shape of a huge black mastiff; and the ready faith of his admirers not only accepted the legend, but embellished it in a manner which its author would scarcely have approved, by asserting that the familiar was seen to carry off the soul of his expiring master. Our readers will easily recall the tragi-comic ballad, in which Southey has recorded, as a warning to all young necromancers, the fate of the rash pupil who ventured to open the cabalistic books of the same philosopher; but they will perhaps be surprised to learn that the adventure in question is a genuine contemporary legend—believed by all the admirers of the magician, and solemnly detailed by the grave Jesuit Delrio, in his learned treatise on Magic. Paracelsus assured his disciples that he carried an imp confined in the hilt of his sword, and another in the jewel of his ring; that he was in constant communication with the spirits of Galen and Avicenna; and that he had identified himself with the celestial intelligences.'
John Dee was honoured with a personal interview by the Arch-
* Atque utinam his potius nugis tota illa dedisset
Illustresque animas, impune et vindice nullo!' The Alchymists, by their continued experiments, naturally acquired considerable practical skill in Chemistry; and for nearly two centuries a great part of this knowledge was constantly devoted to the composition of the subtlest and most deadly poisons. The demand for these fearful inventions increased with the supply, and the supply in its turn with the demand; until, in many parts of Europe, the domestic comfort of every private individual was disturbed by the increasing fear of bcoming a victim to the diabolical art of some secret enemy. • Early in the 16th century,' says Mr Mackay, the crime seems to have gradually increased ; till, in the 17th, it spread over Europe like a pestilence. It was often exercised by pretended witches and sorcerers, and finally became a branch of education amongst all ' who laid any claim to magic and supernatural arts.' Popular alarm, and popular love of the marvellous, embellished by innumerable fables the really frightful nature of this new and atrocious crime. Every substance, it was believed, which could be tasted, smelt, or even touched, might be made, by a skilful poisoner, the means of inflicting inevitable death. Every one has heard of the limpid and tasteless potions which destroyed life, some in the twinkling of an eye, some by gentle and inexplicable decay ;-of the flowers, whose scent carried a deadly vapour to the brain ;-of the delicious perfumes, which spread mortal languor through the air ;-and of the gloves, whose touch insinuated a subtle venom through the pores.
It was in Italy that these terrible practices first appeared, that they were most commonly used, and that they were longest retained. It would be mere waste of time to multiply examples from the political history of that unhappy country. The most superfieial acquaintance with it is sufficient to show, that assassination by poison was a tolerated if not a professed expedient among