The Last Magician

On my last post John Pieret of Thoughts in a Haystack added the following comment;

I notice that people often ridicule Newton for practicing alchemy. However, especially given as I understand it, the lack of much in the way of notes left by Newton about what he was doing, I don’t think we can say any more than he was exploring the closest thing to organized chemistry there was at the time. Trades like dying, metallurgy, glass making etc. probably didn’t share information and techniques very much and secrecy was, I’m guessing, pretty wide spread.

As John is obviously confused as to the true extent of Newton’s alchemical activities and their motivation I have written this post for him. On John’s comment Jeb commented;

I think to ridicule Newton for an interest in alchemy or indeed prophecy is an example of presentism.

His interests mark him as a man of his time not our own.

The society and culture he belonged to is a very diffrent ‘kind’ of thing than our own.

He is of course 100% right.

The title of this post is taken from a legendary essay by John Maynard Keynes (yes that J.M. Keynes!) on the life of Isaac Newton in which he revealed a Newton who had remained unknown to the world for two hundred years. When Newton died his papers were inherited by his niece Catherine Conduit (née Barton) who in turn passed them onto her daughter, Catherine who married into the family of the Earl of Portsmouth in whose possession the papers remained until they were auctioned in the 1930s. Keynes managed to acquire many bundles of the auctioned treasures and what he discovered as he read them both shocked and excited him. Newton’s biographers in the 18th and 19th centuries had presented him as the brilliant, rational, mathematical father of modern science a man who had guided the world into a modern age freed of superstition and wizardry. The man whom Keynes discovered in his unpublished manuscripts was a very different animal indeed, a man of very strange beliefs and practices who appeared more at home amongst the necromancers of the Renaissance than the mathematical physicists of the twentieth century. Newton was an alchemist! This discovery seemed almost blasphemous to many of his admirers and at least one Newton expert, whom I wont name, insist against overwhelming evidence that he only dabbled a bit in chemistry and the claims of alchemical secrets and strange beliefs are pure fantasy.

In order to understand Newton’s very deep involvement in the alchemical arts it is first necessary to understand his strange philosophy of knowledge. Newton was a Bible literalist, that is he believed that the Bible was a true and largely accurate account of the history of mankind, and he was a millennialist, that is he believed in a comparatively soon to take place second coming. He devoted a great deal of time and effort into trying to accurately date the creation (teaching himself Greek and Hebrew in the process) as he believed, along with many others in the 16th and 17th centuries, that the second coming would take place six-thousand years after the beginning of the world and that something in the region of five and a half thousand years had already passed. He was also a prisca theologian that is he believed that the original inhabitants of the earth had had a perfect knowledge of the laws of nature and that this knowledge had been lost in the march of time. According to this belief scholars like himself did not discover the laws of nature but rediscover them. Newton actually believed that he had been special chosen by God to receive this knowledge. Newton took up the study of alchemy because he believed that it was one of the oldest forms of Knowledge and therefore by definition closest to the original perfect knowledge that had been lost. Like most contemporary alchemist Newton was most interested in the so-called Hermetic Corpus a collection of Greek texts of supposed Egyptian origins, attributed to Hermes Trimegistus (thrice great) a supposed contemporary of Moses. These texts had been translated into Latin in the 15th century by Ficino but already at the beginning of the 17th century Isaac Causabon had shown by philological analysis that the texts were a product of the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.

Newton’s studies in this direction actually started in about 1666 with the chemistry of Robert Boyle’s The Sceptical Chymist but had changed within a couple of years to Boyle’s other interest alchemy. Newton would spend a large part of the next thirty years studying alchemy including six months every year of alchemical experiment in a garden shed that he had erected in the gardens of his college especially for this purpose. He acquired, read and annotated a large library of alchemical literature and wrote a vast number of manuscripts on the subject (some of which Keynes acquired), which however display little originality but are more an attempt to organise and codify his readings into some sort of systematic science. His alchemy was not conducted in isolation from his other more legitimate scientific activities but actually informed and guided his entire academic endeavours.

When he finally left Cambridge for London to take up his post as Warden of the Mint in 1696 he also gave up his alchemical investigations but in his new work he put the practical knowledge of experimental chemical procedures that he had acquired in all those years of investigation to use. At the mint he devised new and better methods of assaying metals to control their purity.

For thirty of his years in his prime Isaac Newton was a fully-fledged practicing alchemist searching for the ancient secrets of knowledge that he believed alchemy could and would reveal to him, God’s anointed. He even conducted an alchemical correspondence with Robert Boyle and John Locke the thought of which fills me with a certain sense of amusement. Here we have three of the greatest founders of the modern rational scientific world indulging in the pursuit of one of the most arcane forms of woo that have ever existed.

Literature:

The definitive books on Newton the Alchemist are both by Betty-Jo Teeter Dobbs;

The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy or “The hunting of the greene lyon”, CUP, 1975

The Janus Faces of Genius: The Role of Alchemy in Newton’s Thoughts, CUP, 1991.

43 Comments

Filed under History of science, Newton, Renaissance Science

43 responses to “The Last Magician

  1. jeb

    You have saved me time searching for books on the subject. Ive got some reading to do!

    Thanks.

    I have been avoiding alchemy, but some of Newton’s notes I came across recently in relation to spontanious generation put it back on the list of things to do a.s.a.p.

    Arcane woo woo and modern foundation legends.
    An esoteric mix indeed.

  2. As to how much we know about Newton’s alchemy investigations, that was a half-remembered bit out of some PBS documentary about Newton, which was why I stated it so tentatively.

    But I didn’t mean to imply that alchemy, or Newton’s interest in it, was based on anything like modern chemistry — which (as you pointed out) did not even begin to exist until Lavoisier and Dalton. I was simply extending your point about presentism to Newton’s alchemy. Anyone in Newton’s time interested in the phenomena we now call chemistry had few, if any, other places to start. Nor is Newton’s motivations particularly relevant to his science (though interesting historically, culturally and philosophically), any more than Kekulé’s Ouroboros is relevant to the structure of the benzene ring.

    But, if say that Newton, Boyle and Locke were engaged in “woo,” aren’t you committing presentism yourself?

    • That’s not quite true: the starting point of modern chemistry on the continent was van Helmont’s work which overturned the Paracelsian 4-humours apple-cart by discovering the gaseous physical state, and focusing on what we now know as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in biochemistry. He openly attributed his interest as having been triggered by a successful transmutation of gold, although his write-up indicates it was only the final step which he undertook. His interest passed through his son, Leibnitz’ tutor.

  3. The picture is very complex, as I understand it. “Alchemy” was not what we perceive it to be today, and our notions of it have become highly distorted by the 18th and 19th century ridicule of the practice. Of course, it wasn’t what we now call chemistry, but it also wasn’t as spooky and weird as we assume. Of course, some of the doctrines (trans-substantiation, the Philosopher’s Stone) look strange, but the foundational principles of Newton’s physics (that, for example, mass attracts mass) have only lost their strangeness because we are used to them.

    Newton’s alchemy was a principled, empirically sensitive attempt to uncover nature’s secrets, and the alchemy of the time was much closer to what was called “chymistry”, an early forerunner of modern chemistry.

    I think it is pointless to use this kind of historical observation to decide whether Newton was a “scientist” or a “chemist” or not, or to discover alleged contradictions in the thought of Locke, Newton or Boyle. The title “The Last Magician” encourages this error. What Newton’s alchemical pursuits tell us is that the very categories “scientist” and “chemist” are historically contingent and relatively unimportant: absolutely nothing changes if we call him a “Magician” or a “Scientist”. What matters is that Newton was a genius who applied his mental abilities to a discovery of empirical principles. Some of his pursuits may have been dead ends, but we shouldn’t fault him for that (who among us hasn’t gone down such paths in our lives?).

    Trying to map him to the modern, insufferably dreary “science-religion debate” is particularly absurd, I am sorry to say.

    • Boyle and Locke openly worked from Kircher, Puteanus and Vincenzo Galileo’s work on musical theory; if you please, nigh on eighty years earlier. That “if you please” is somewhat misleading, in fact: the music they were developing was simply a facet of quadrivium thinking derived from the work of Pierre d’Ailly, Guillaume Dufay and Jean de Bruges in the fifteenth century, which combined a quasi-instinctual feeling for an amalgam of pure maths, astronomy, music and geometry, and so Boyle and Hooke were to a great extent simply building aspects on precedent. Jean de Bruges may very well have been the painter Jan van Eyck, as this is how the latter was known in the Papal circles in question, and his Mystic Lamb betrays deep esoteric knowledge.

  4. jeb

    I study folklore and its relationship with elite culture. Newtons genius is not a particular concern or interest.

    But then its common to view such things as dead ends or mistakes and it is hardly restricted to the 18th or 19th cen.. A view I find particulary absurd I am sorry to say.

    As dreary indeed as the science- religion debate.
    I prefer to map such thinkers with ordinary folk, now thats something truly absurd, that I find amusing.

    • Find out your subject first: it is very clear that alchemy was no dead end, it was simply a very confused first working estimate which was subsequently refined to the point where prcious little remains. However, the current review is because certain aspects such as the medical uses of catalytic platinum and other precious metals, derived from researches undertaken by a certain rather esoteric precious metals company, are working out: there appears to be something in the legends.

      • Jeb

        I have the luxury of not having to be concerned about the truth or falseness of such claims. Truth is not the only thing of value in the economy I look at. Sheer density of repitition seems more important.

        I stumbled into science and philosophy by accident as all the narratives I look at are foundation legends concerned with the origin of certain kinds of things.

        Folklore is shot through with views shared by both the oral culture of peasant society and more elite perspectives. Alchemy is almost certainly one other subject in the mix along with certain aspects of philosophy and medecine that has this wide social platform.

        Such repitition allows for exchanges to take place across social classes and cultures, which can at the same time maintian a difference and claim distinct status.

      • Oh, please! Folklore is a nineteenth – or even twentieth – century portmanteau word designed to pack anything you don’t understand off into the land of the fairies.
        The mediaeval peasant was faced with life-or-death decisions based upon his understanding of the physical world about him. That made him come up with certain theories, which were filtered through religious dogma into such ideas as paracelsianism. Theories were tested, and gradually we got ourselves sufficiently organised as to have some spare time for research, which started to pay dividends and so we’re just starting to see more clearly. For instance, just yesterday there were announcements about forms of magnetism which behave like electricity: but nobody can yet accurately define what either is in non-phenomenological terms.
        The fact we can see a bit more clearly now actually poses a problem for understanding where we came from, something which is essential if ever it transpires we took a false turn or missed something useful.
        So, dismiss thoughts about absolute truth, the name of the game here is understanding the perceived truths of our ancestors. Yes, acknowledging that they thought the world was flat, and at the centre of eight harmonic spheres. Keep a line between our reality and theirs – but be aware that our reality was built on theirs and may contains unobserved flaws as a result.
        We’re above all else careful about such mass-credence as you talk about, as the general population has long been the target of spin-doctors “educating” them to avoid certain areas some theoreticians are sensitive about – a good example is the Intelligent Design argument at the moment.
        Floating concepts of absolute truth is a logical sophistry to be avoided by careful definition of what we’re talking about. Instead, we deal in historical method of sources and commentaries – it is a particular bugbear of mine that some historians only work from commentaries, and refuse to deal in original sources at all, a particular failing of Wikipedia’s authors. Both are valuable, subject to the normal tests of scientific method: is it corroborated, and is it replicable?

  5. jeb

    “one man’s rubbish may be another’s treasure; and what is the standard of value in such a pursuit as this?”

    http://www.electricscotland.com/books/whintro.htm

  6. Will Thomas

    Just recently saw the end of a documentary on one of the science channels about Newton’s end-of-the-world predictions. Lamentably it was terrible and didn’t delve at all into the way Newton’s thought worked (mostly apocalypse-scenario-mongering, a la that new 2012 movie), but it was still good to see something on Newton as a distinctively non-modern scientific thinker.

    On Newton as a non-modern thinker, it’s also worthwhile to remember that Newton’s thought was pretty peculiar in his own time, which is definitively not to say that everyone else held recognizably modern points-of-view. It’s a further reminder that ‘natural philosophy’ is not simply an old-fashioned word for ‘science’. It was an attempt to use all available forms of evidence (textual, experimental, intuitive…) to systematically explain all philosophical problems one might come up with, including issues of divinity, thought, human understanding, growth in living matter, light, fire, electricity, gravity, chemical reaction, the arrangement of what had to be assumed to be a divinely-arranged cosmos, etc., without the benefit of later categorizations of phenomena and knowledge. Within this rubric Newton was an almost singularly energetic and systematic thinker.

    • The start of thinking in the 1420s (which is what those links of mine lead you to) was extremely apocalyptic – Newton was probably just echoing them. Given that I’m on the same territory on my blog, I sympathise – proving prophets with come a track record wrong is a difficult game.

    • Jeb

      Despite his beliefs he still came under attack for promoting godlessness. Lord Monboddo launched a very mis-guided attack as his theory of gravity made no mention of the prime mover. Anaxagoras was more to the taste of lord M. and his concerns with regard to the way philosophy and science were moving.

      I think this was time of considerable anxiety for thinkers, political upheaval, social unrest and the charred smell of the last heresy burning of an Edinburgh student still hung in the air and was well within living memory.

      As Burns put it “wi truce and commotion and new gangled notion a’ Europe has set in a lowe/ the poor man lies down nor envies the crown and comforts himself wi a mowe (lit. fuck)

      • You must be careful about creating anachronous interpretations in the seventeenth century, particularly from 1660 onwards. Not only was the development of scientific theory in full flow, but the growth of modern esoteric schools such as rosicrucianism and its blood brother freemasonry were changing the way people looked at things. An interesting question will be to identify who was actually responsible for the mythologisation of a number of mediaeval concepts, such that the nineteenth-century romantics (in particular the pre-raphaelites) could redefine them in their own terms. Robert Burns, for instance, is late eighteenth-century, and quoting him is using this kind of anachronistic argument.
        Another false trail is the Kaballah: Gershom Scholen has demonstrated that this school does not have much original to say on the subject. However, I qualify that comment with the observation that some of the work of the quasi-mythological Ramon Llull relates to the very Jewish schools of the University of Montpellier in the thirteenth century.
        The real study jumps in big leaps back to the 1560s, and beyond that is very much up for grabs: you need to examine Brussels and its texts in great detail to go further backwards, and probably Italian and Spanish-Arabic texts before that.

  7. One of the problems dissuading serious research into the period before 1560 is that some of the work was already “away with the fairies”. That there was a conceptual identification between astronomy and alchemy is undeniable – unknitting this is a major theme of Newton’s work – but for all that there are fictions, there are also less controversial approaches taken in the Church, for example.
    One interesting angle is that the concepts of black studies seem to crystallise as late as the fifteenth century. Heresy was, of course, much older, but the more satanic and macabre orientations don’t start until the return visits of the plague in the early years of the fifteenth century persuaded even the optimists that the Black Death wasn’t a one-off: from then on in we get the Dance of Death, Witch trials, and so on and so forth, particularly among nonconformists (see the early chapters of Christopher Hill’s study of the roots of the seventeenth century reformists The World Turned Upside Down).
    For this reason, I’m starting to follow Laura Smoller’s thinking that Pierre d’Ailly is a good reference point a

  8. One of the problems dissuading serious research into the period before 1560 is that some of the work was already “away with the fairies”. That there was a conceptual identification between astronomy and alchemy is undeniable – unknitting this is a major theme of Newton’s work – but for all that there are fictions, there are also less controversial approaches taken in the Church, for example.
    One interesting angle is that the concepts of black studies seem to crystallise as late as the fifteenth century. Heresy was, of course, much older, but the more satanic and macabre orientations don’t start until the return visits of the plague in the early years of the fifteenth century persuaded even the optimists that the Black Death wasn’t a one-off: from then on in we get the Dance of Death, Witch trials, and so on and so forth, particularly among nonconformists (see the early chapters of Christopher Hill’s study of the roots of the seventeenth century reformists The World Turned Upside Down).
    For this reason, I’m starting to follow Laura Smoller’s thinking that Pierre d’Ailly makes a good reference point at the turn of the fifteenth century, working within the Va

  9. One of the problems dissuading serious research into the period before 1560 is that some of the work was already “away with the fairies”. That there was a conceptual identification between astronomy and alchemy is undeniable – unknitting this is a major theme of Newton’s work – but for all that there are fictions, there are also less controversial approaches taken in the Church, for example.
    One interesting angle is that the concepts of black studies seem to crystallise as late as the fifteenth century. Heresy was, of course, much older, but the more satanic and macabre orientations don’t start until the return visits of the plague in the early years of the fifteenth century persuaded even the optimists that the Black Death wasn’t a one-off: from then on in we get the Dance of Death, Witch trials, and so on and so forth, particularly among nonconformists (see the early chapters of Christopher Hill’s study of the roots of the seventeenth century reformists The World Turned Upside Down).
    For this reason, I’m starting to follow Laura Smoller’s thinking that Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly makes a good reference point at the turn of the fifteenth century, working within the Vatican on astrology. His followers include a certain Jean de Bruges, who one is tempted to identify with Jan van Eyck, who was widely known by that name: the one inconsistency is that Jean de Bruges’ magnum opus was published three years after van eyck’s death, but then again, it’s about the amount of time needed to publish posthumously. Certainly, as one of the first artists to work with oils, van Eyck was functionally an alchemist of sorts, and the depth of his metaphysical knowledge portrayed in works such as the Mystic Lamb add further credence to the argument.

  10. I was a student of Betty Jo Dobbs at Northwestern in 1975. She inspired me. This morning I woke up realizing that 35 years later, I actually am an alchemist.

    Professor Dobbs taught that alchemy always contained two inseparable aspects: material and spiritual. Prior to Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, there was no concept that they could be broken apart and studied separately.

    Following their contributions, science between wedded to materialism, which it remains to this day. The spiritual quest, to redeem the soul of humanity, degraded into fantastic spiritualism or religious dogma.

    Einstein and quantum physicists solved the material side of alchemy, the transformation of elements through nuclear reactions. Professor Dobbs inspire her students to seek the solution to the other side, the transformation of the human heart.

    That has been my life’s work. Now in my mid-50s, I have discovered something important about how to do it.

  11. The current stage of the work is to develop a suspicion that the fantastical spiritual was at best a red herring and possibly a malevolent mechanism to keep researchers away from the Church, the arch-enemy of the Enlightenment. All roads lead back to van Helmont, whether from Boyle (via George Starkey), Leibnitz (via Franz van Helmont) or Lavoisier. Yes, of course they all picked any number of holes and improved on him no end, but the basic point is that van Helmont was responsible for throwing over the traces and forcing science to think for itself, cautiously and provably. He in particular rejected Paracelsus, which makes the early references to tha

  12. The current stage of the work is to develop a suspicion that the fantastical spiritual was at best a red herring and possibly a malevolent mechanism to keep researchers away from the Church, the arch-enemy of the Enlightenment. All roads lead back to van Helmont, whether from Boyle (via George Starkey), Leibnitz (via Franz van Helmont) or Lavoisier. Yes, of course they all picked any number of holes and improved on him no end, but the basic point is that van Helmont was responsible for throwing over the traces and forcing science to think for itself, cautiously and provably. He in particular rejected Paracelsus, which makes the early references to that school from the Royal Academy Masonics pure nonsense.

  13. jeb

    I don’t think all the fantastical elements are all spiritual by nature but certainly fantastical.

    I don’t think you can come up with single answers in relation to this side of things.

    These”mechanisims” can be used to perform a range of functions depending on context. A defense mechanisim is one part.

    But it’s not simply a case of dealing with a collection of viral memes.

    Certainly the images and constructions I look at move from the sacred (in the sense of deeply held idea) to the profane with ease.

    Their range can move at any time from object of dry wit to one of low humour.

    The images used in the margins of texts prove to be rather flexable I find. A potential pattern that can fall in any number of directions.

    But you can see the defensive appeal of using images in which it is difficult to determine one thing from the other.

    The danger of course they can simply become a joke.

    • What I’m finding is a coherent body of work in the fifteenth century, leading towards what becomes science but is, in accordance with the mores of the time, predominantly theological. It certainly does not include all the thinkers of the period, but is at least sufficiently coherent to be usable to push the frontiers of science back by something like 200 years, or halfway to the point at which science was essentially indistinguishable from folk-wisdom, agricultural and craft practices based on pure empiricism.
      Of course, individuals have always been able to think for themselves, and at a social level, that generally had the inevitable consequence of being unacceptable, which according to the period you lived in could have greater or lesser consequences. The question arose here recently whether any scientist had ever actually been executed for his knowledge. Lavoisier was executed, but for his tax-farming which paid for his studies: the line between is fine. Many a wise-woman was burned as a witch in the seventeenth century, simply for her knowledge, her science, primitive and pragmatic though it was.
      In many ways, progression in science has always depended upon conformity. The theologian astrologers of the fifteeth century worked towards the quadrivium, where mathematics, cosmology and geometry stood alongside music: and yet we see music as late as the nineteenth century inspire John Newlands to start grouping the elements in octaves as a step towards the Periodic Table.
      Nor is it as simple as that: you comment on the marginalia of scriptorium output, which was permitted as a way of keeping a foot in the pragmatic, according to the Church’s doctrine of Realism. Since forever there was stress between the observant and the sybaritic religious, between for instance Boniface of Lausanne, practically a Catholic puritan, and the prelates of the Rhine Valley in 1229-30, the period of the Carmina Burana when the songs portray a hedonistic lifestyle. Might “Ego sum abbas” apply to Albertus Magnus, or “uf dem anger” to Hildegard’s successors at Bingen? Boniface certainly made no end of enemies denouncing the licentiousness of the monks and nuns in the area: they would later be used by Frederic II to attempt to assassinate him.
      And that has forever been the stress, between Savonarola and de Mirandola, between Luther and Tetzel, between Ruusbroec and Bloemardine, between the Wesleyans and the Oxford Anglocatholics.
      The tension could be a useful dynamic: but it also hides schools of thinking which became dogmas in their own right, which we should be aware of in order not to be entrapped by their mythologies – which was my point about Paracelsus.
      One aspect of this, of course, is the availability of leisure time to devote to research. It is not coincidental that many of the early scientists are affluent, nor that research goes quiet in times of economic stress, like the second half of the fourteenth century: but equally, warfare is a big benefactory of the subject.

      • jeb

        I was thinking as much about an old wordplay on the barnacle gooses relationship with red herrings and it’s inflection range as I was with marginalia or the footnotes of one philosopher in which part of my subject has been confined.

        I hope I can avoid becoming indistinguishable from folk-wisdom in future and reaction to these images and themes has always been dependant on the audiences class and education.

        Line may be fine in regard to recent questions but it does allow things to be examined in a wider social context rather than trying to draw clear lines in the sand round a particular group.

  14. jeb

    But as an old Irish scribe once thought and noted in the text he was reading.

    “pleasant to me the sunshine for the way it glitters on these margins so.”

  15. jeb

    “the line between is fine. Many a wise-woman was burned as a witch in the seventeenth century, simply for her knowledge, her science, primitive and pragmatic though it was.”

    I would have a look at James the 1st first book of demonology. Chapter 2.

    “Argument: What kind of sin practisers of these unlawful arts commit. The division of these arts, and what are the means that allures any to practise
    them.

    “for he uses every man, whom of (of whom) he hath the rule, according to their complexion and knowledege….For he being the enemy of man’s salvation, uses all the means he can to entrap them so far in his snares as it may be unable to them thereafter (suppose they would) to rid themselves out of the same.”

    James is policing the whole of society not one group and if you look at the propoganda output that seems to fit rather well with the demonology
    i.e “The News From Scotland” it has to appeal across the social spectrum.

    When it comes to policing I would suggest administrators like to concentrate on those who are easy to catch and that which is easy to demonstrate. James needs to cast his net wide across all groups and demonstrate guilt effectivly in a way that can be widely and publicaly consumed.

    You would have to over inflect one of what James terms the three passions that “are within ourselves” and motivate such crimes

    “curiosity in great engines” (ambition in those with great intelligence or ambition in great enterprises)

    Of note however is how the paragraph on the three passions ends.

    “for that old and crafty serpent (being a spirit) he easily spies our affections, and so conforms himself thereto to decieve us to our wrack.”

    Fine line between sense and non-sense I find.
    James was certainly a crafty old serpent.

  16. jeb

    p.s one of the earliest rational take downs of an image played with in “The News From Scotland”
    is clearly drawn from the early experiments on electricity.

    It’s never convincing to look for a single origin for beliefs like this (the particular theme has a long history and evolution across the cultural spectrum). But it is still interesting and points towards tension and diffrences being made with regard to this subject by particular groups.

    • I will be straight: I believe the alchemical experiments of Brussels in the 1560s used electricity, on the basis of the first Law of Thermodynamics. The distinction between Wet and Dry paths is 12 months at temperatures of around 100°C in an athanor in the Wet path and 1 month at upwards of 1000°C in the Dry path: either the Wet path was unbelievably inefficient, or the First Law of Thermodynamics applies, which is more coherent in terms of the figues quoted. Equally, reaching and holding such high temperatures in the 1560s could not otherwise have been achieved in an urban setting, as the amount of charcoal consumed would have set fire not only to the house but also to the town: moreover, Phillip II’s notes in the Simancas Archive of his correspondance with his Secretary Pedro de la Hoya suggest they were actually using one of the mythological power sources, constructed as a big capacitor – but the open question is, how was it charged? There is a possibility that piezo stones may have been involved: the van Helmont/Starkey explanation is totally off the wall, but if you can research what piece of equipment I’m talking about, more probable, and that DOES cause problems for the scientific purists.

      It’s clear that these experiments triggered all the Rudolf II Prague research, which got nowhere because they lacked the Brussels equipment: Dee and all probably went mad from mercury poisoning. It is also to be noted that Phillip II was the husband of James’ first cousin once removed, Mary Tudor: it is not impossible that details passed between them.

      I’m not working off single origin, either, everything’s corroborated five or six ways, for instance I have 2 textual authorities of the early fifteenth century and van Helmont and George Starkey behind me for the above comment.
      In fact, the entire story is as coherent as a stick of Blackpool rock: whenever you slice it you get d’Ailly’s story right down to the present day.

      I’ve focused on certain groups as they were demonstrably associates, even though their association has sometimes not been clear, for instance in the parity between d’Ailly’s successor in Cosmology, Jean de Bruges, and Jan van Brugge, otherwise known as Jan van Eyck, which explains the latter’s eschatological knowledge.

      However, I do not particularly hold with the cultural argument for research. Yes, the underpinnings must be in place for a breakthrough to be possible (there’s an example of that in my work with Laura Smoller, where we simultaneously replicated each other’s entirely autonomous work on different artefacts sharing common attributes), but even if several people arrive at identical conclusions almost simultaneously, none the less each did their own work their own way, and stands alone as well as together. At the end of the day, certain things WERE done by particular people, and even though others had to be able to replicate their work to prove it, none the less the line of thinking was changed by one particular person’s ideas. There are usually a number of ways to skin a cat, not least allowing atomic decay to kill the beast and time to rot its insides (after all, opening the door to the Schrodinger test defines the outcome, also observing that the conceptual model provides for neither food nor water as a circumstantial monitor for the true state of said indeterminate moggy), but still each technique used has its inventor, marked both as a waypoint to revert to in case it’s a dead-end and as a model to examine for hyper-lessons on innovation. Sometimes breakthroughs also happen because of genius.

      Nor was I particularly thinking about James’s less than savoury habits in this and other respects, his Regents had much to answer for, if you read Nigel Tranter’s study, for all of the latter author’s weaknesses as a serious historian. Let me be explicit in these definitions of satanism: they arise from around 1430 in the wake of the recovery from the Black Death and the claims of Joan of Arc, not least in the events surrounding the later activities of her lieutenant Gilles de Rais/Retz, and here too we come back to the same point. There are also simultaneous outbreaks of repeat fear across Europe, as more plagues appeared: once bitten, twice shy.

  17. jeb

    “Many a wise-woman was burned as a witch in the seventeenth century, simply for her knowledge, her science, primitive and pragmatic though it was.”

    Much of what you discuss is well outside of my knowledge base. However I could hazard a resonable guess as to what the response to the above discription would be from contemporary specalists in the subject.

    Some are rather touchy indeed about anything that gives the misleading impression that this was the activity of females from one particular social class. You certainly give that impression wither intended or not. I would be carefull.

    Youre description of why individuals were accused and burnt is also open to considerable question and is somewhat narrow. It looks like what I would term single origin or straight line history a+b = pre- existing conclusion c.

    I hope I don’t give the impression of trying to weild a big stick. But it looks somewhat limited and restrictive as a description.

    • Sorry, you’re wrong. Stop trying to apply modern thinking, where we have a sufficiently large population to be able to devote a significant proportion of our GNP to research, to periods before 1500, as it’s just not true of then. Virtually no research whatsoever happened, with the possible exception of some metal technology in Germany, between 1350 and 1400, because the economy was wrecked by the loss of population in the Black Death, indeed there’s an argument that this continued in the general population until the arrival of Robert Hooke in the mid 1600s. The Industrial Revolution happened because common people started to get time to do something in a way that had never happened before, see Uglow’s The Lunar Men to appreciate just how the middle class started to get somewhere. But that was in the eighteenth century when the scientific breakthroughs were being consolidated into practical applications, whereas the cutting edge of the subject we’re working on is a hundred years earlier – the name of the Blog is RENAISSANCE Mathematicus, not RESTORATION Mathematicus.
      The Renaissance started in the 1430s and may be considered complete by 1560, and was driven by the sponsorship of the nobility, perhaps the last flowering of the feudal system.
      I also made it clear that my answers were in an international framework. Though the feminists like it or not, the descent of Ruusbroec’s attacks on Bloemardine was the start of the thin end of a wedge against the liberation of women in the fourteenth century, culminating in a Papal Bull which required female religious of all sorts (and that was specifically aimed at the Bégiuines) to live in enclosed convents, and that lasted until the sixteenth century. Equally, taking the seventeenth century witch trials into account, although there were some males condemned, by far and away the biggest sufferers were women, and here I’m still talking about the whole of Europe. Yes, Savonarola and Bruno were burned for heresies on the edge of this domain, and one might even go as far as adding Egmont and Hoornes into their number, as they were also executed for scientific heresy, but that’s rather more in the tradition of the Inquisition’s work against the Templars, van Helmont and Galileo. Indeed, Brussels tradition has it that van Helmont was the direct consequence of Hoornes and Egmont.
      And when did I bring class into it? It was unlikely women of the upper class would ever be at risk, because they were involved in other directions. Examine the case of Veronica Franco in Venice, to see how aspiration and big families never drifted away from pure intellect at that level. Elizabeth Tudor, under house arrest in Mary’s reign, did not head off in such directions, instead she studied latin poetry in such depth as to change the English pronunciation of Latin simply to get the classics to rhyme. There are prominent female thinkers of the period, but they studiously stayed clear of the ecclesiastical domains of the quadrivium and theology from which science sprang. However, women were practical people, running houses and giving birth required practical skills and experience which verged into the medical and chemical, and that may have been part of the reason there were attacks on them.
      And as far as contemporary specialists in the subject are concerned, I’m working with at least one of them with great results. So stop trying to bow before the status-quo of Victorian mythology, the purblind neo-gothic romantics who generated Disney history, and start learning facts. That begins by looking up the texts I’ve given you and doing some reading to see. That way we avoid the Royal Society’s version of the roots of science which drowns us in incomprehension, in the Dees of this world with their Angelic Guides and the Bombast von Hohenheims with their mystical mercury, sulphur and salts, with the unwritten subtext that they themselves are the source and fount of all wisdom: there was a degree of that, but there were also people making real things in better and better ways, way back before Newton. And to me, that is science, a word which means knowledge. Yes, much of the late mediaeval and early renaissance thinking was weird, and at some point we really do need to research the German metallurgists, but one thing at a time: my current purpose is to show how this thinking crystallised, how knowledge was proved empirically and spread. And some of that weirdness may actually be our own stupidity, in having thrown the alchemical baby out with the bathwater: see again van Helmont.

      • jeb

        Really? Yes the way in which some academics respond to this issue is related to modern concerns. Certainly.

        My only knowledge of witchcraft is from a Scottish context. It’s about five years out of date. I find it a problematic subject and the heated responses are motivitated from some research at the time that contained a credible possibility but moved into the realm of utter speculation and became somewhat bloated.

        But it still remains the case that youre discription from a scottish context at least is certainly open to serious question. Despite the unfortunate problem that presentisim presents to any researcher.

        Please don’t feel the need to dumb down. I find what you say a bit more difficult to grasp than Thony’s posts and I am unsure about what exactly you are doing. But much of the history you discuss is unfamiliar to me.

        I am not a historian, I work with historical material but ask very diffrent questions and maintain diffrent interests. But Thony’s approach and the way a few other academics appear to be moving is helpfull to my own attempts at study and conform well with what I draw from the sources I deal with.

        The history of science is only one of a number of subjects I have to develop new skills in and when you touch on areas on occasion which are related to what I am interested in, dyslexia aside the same thought crossed my mind as well with regard to communication. Much along the same lines as you thought with regard to youre own interests

        In a few small areas I am sometimes capable at certain times of the night of resonable and sophisticated thought.

        I was interested in what you said about the relationship between alchemy and British legends. Ive not looked at alchemy yet in any detail; I have what someone described as a “leave no stone unturned aproach” to what I do.

        I concentrate on wild men, wild women and feral children for the most part. Looking at the relationship between ‘science’ philosophy and popular culture from the 6th cen. onward in both written and oral forms when they appear. But I do a few other things as well.

        The relationship with the middle east is of course far older in this regard than the 12th cen. although the exact route of transmition is still a matter to be worked out fully.

        As is the development of these themes and their exact relationship with later material both in Britian, Ireland and a wider European context.

  18. jeb

    p.s I am not the touchy contemporary expert on witchcraft. Far too popular a subject for my prefrence for obscurity and the margins. But I do know a number.

    • I’m not going down that track either, although I could, as it’s off thread. There is a coherent and long-established school of dark workers on the unholier edge of Rosicrucianism and its antecedents, people like Papus (FUDOSI) and Crowley (OTO) whose followers exist to this day, but who have never really discovered anything. The kind of witchcraft you refer to was an invention of the fifteenth century, a perversion refined in the seventeenth and mythologised in the nineteenth and of no real relevance to the real world other than in the real deaths they have caused (I refer here to people like Ian Huntley and Marc Dutroux, both of whom study alchemy in their cells as best they can). As I’ve broken back before that time, they can and should be discounted as irrational at best, and insane objectively.

  19. jeb

    Thats my dyslexia. Its realy starting to piss me of as it affected the demonolgy bit rather badly. Points I make with this form of communication are crude and unsubltle its not a good communication medium for me.

    By contemporary I meant historical researchers not of Nigel Tranters generation.

    I did have to sit through one of the most appaling lectures of my life on comtemporary beliefs in this area. With the research confessing at the end he had become drawn to the subject and was buying into it as a belief.

    Not as bad as the American academic who in the middle of a presentation into I am not exactly sure what, shared her experiance of seeing fillings turn to gold.

    You just sit their open mouthed wondering how the hell they get away with it and why on earth they are allowed to deliver this sort of shit in an alleged academic setting.

  20. jeb

    But then in that department the early stages of one of the most succesful parts of my research in which I have been able to link the motifs in an Irish tale Mis to cures for lovesickness and grief which come
    straight in from arabic sources in the 12th cen.

    My perspective was described as a work of literary fiction. A pagan pre-historic oral origin was prefered.

    I did not know at the time but someone had already written a succesfull version.

    You can catch her work and beliefs here. Its jaw droping what exactly can get taught in the departments of top flight universities.

    http://www.celticshamanism.com/

    Had to get that one of my chest.

    • The importation of arabic concepts in the 12th Century was entirely normal: it was the direct consequence of cultural exposure in the Crusades. Not only do we see a huge boost in musical instruments (the first bowed strings, gourd drums and double-reeded blown pipes), but also huge advances in medecine and agriculture, as I mentioned just now.
      The biggest centre for this was Frederic II’s Holy Roman Empire in Germany and the centre of Italy: his diplomatic relations with the arabs were second to none, and his politics were rather more closely aligned with theirs than with the rest of Western Europe. The problems Konrad of Urach had getting him to honour his coronation oath to go on crusade are almost legendary, Konrad being one of the many who died in one of the probably carefully selected plague spots in Bari en route, in 1227: that was about as far as Frederic got, and he certainly never posed any threat to his friends (and reputed coreligionists). Konrad’s follower and successor Boniface of Lausanne got no further, being from the family of the lieutenants of the Duke of Brabant, and therefore lacking the pull Konrad had as the second son of Graf Egino IV, the leader of the Southern German faction and founded of the House of Wurttemberg. Boniface was eventually the target of an assassination attempt staged by Frederic in 1239, using Boniface’s own monks as the killers. Unfortunately for Frederic, Boniface survived and resigned, putting him firmly on the spot, this being a mere sixty years after Henry II had Archibishop Becket murdered, and at the height of the rise of Becket’s cult: Frederic was excommunicated for heresy. The result was a state of effective warfare between the Papal States and the via degli Abruzzi in Apulia, connecting the Holy Roman Empire and the Two Sicilies (or to you, Naples): Frederic built Aquila to defend it, and that, you will recall, was the town which got flattened last year.
      This, it is to be remembered, is also the period of the von Eschenbach reworkings of the Germanic, indeed Hermanic, legends to align with the British Arthurian tales, which will feed so much of the Victorian romantic fictional rewriting of history we’re getting shot of nowadays. One can see how such tales were used to spin policies which, to be frank, were within about a gnat’s breadth of the justification Burgundy used in starting the Albigensian Crusade: it was only family ties at the top which circumvented it.

  21. Part of my problem is that I don’t know how much you know, which is why I have to trade down in quality to aim at a halfway accessible reference point like Tranter. In dealing with Scottish history, you’ve got to start somewhere, and his broad-brush fictions are at least a starting point you can argue the toss from in respect of such questions as the English influence on the Commun na gael. I was actually a member of the Commun na Clársaich for a while…as would have been the esteemed Serpent. However, I’ve been overseas for some time and am almost certainly twenty years out of date as regards the latest studies in Scottish history – no man can know everything about everything!

    Just for the reference, one of Laura Smoller’s seminal texts, her study of d’Ailly’s work on the Alfonsine tables as an eschatological prop for his Eucharistic plans, is published in a festschrift for one of her own doctors, Jeffrey B Russell, whose specialist field was this area, and as a result this work is entitled The Devil, Heresy and Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, which is worth reading if anyone wants to pursue that angle. I additionally associate the 1437-1440 activities of Gilles de Rais with a very long-standing association of child abuse and the dark side of alchemy, which particularly runs in de Rais’ family the de Montmorency (of which Hoornes and Egmont were also members), and which was reanimated in Victorian times to involve Huntley, Dutroux and others to this day. Yes, this has been discussed extensively with the relevant police, and is getting somewhere in real hard terms: obviously, that is as far as I can go as prosecutions may be forthcoming.

    As far as the academic establishment is concerned, history is supposedly about retaining facts, and so historians were at one point some of the most hidebound dogmatists quite incapable of withstanding examination. My own family background is pan-national, and that’s why I’m a future historian rather than an academic historian: you were not allowed to think when I was in my examination period, all you were allowed to do was spout the most ridiculous jingoistic guff. It’s reminiscent of Blair’s presentation on the Gulf War the other day, trying to suggest everything was perfectly transparent and deny anyone the possibility of suggesting that the King’s new clothes were clogged with blood. That the blood came from Iraq in the first place is a point he could not make because he had to defend the WMD fiction in place of the real argument, that Saddam Hussein was failing to respect his surrender terms in 1991, which in International Law is sufficient grounds for restarting a war without needing further authority beyond getting no satisfactory redress to a Security Council complaint.

    I’m going to go a little bit wider than you need, because other readers may not have a UK background.

    One problem long appreciated about history is that it’s written by the victors. As a result, the French don’t teach Agincourt, so there’s no understanding that demolishing the French nobility actually led to an armaments upgrade placing the French at the forefront of artillery technology, so strong that they remained the foremost European land force until the Thirty Years War two hundred years later. Equally, the Brits don’t teach Bouvines, which destroyed the Angevin Empire and was the start of the political alienation of the UK within Europe.

    The whole of European history is riddled with this kind of nonsense. A few years back I was the English rep on the Education Committee of the European School, the school for the children of Eurocrats which sets out the ambitious idea of providing a blend between an equivalent education to that they would receive in their own countries and an understanding of what others understand. Not a bad goal in itself, but the way it’s put into practice exposes a weakness: the children are taught secondary humanities in their second language. That triggered a complaint from the Spanish rep that the Spanish kids were not only not being taught Spanish history, but were mostly in the French course and therefore being taught French history. Now, any fule nowe that the French and Spaniards were political enemies from 1492 to 1814, so their grief was understandible, and I started digging.

    Would you believe that there is no neutral history of Europe to be found anywhere? The School had started something which died a political death. I therefore wrote a study paper which suggested that there is as much, if not more, to be learned from failure as there is from success, and that we were in desperate need of a history which explains the interests and motives of the players, the events which resulted and why the outcome was as it was, and the longer-term consequences. The history of the world since 1890 is exactly that: firstly a war caused by blind jingoistic prejudice which was won by technological innovation, then another caused by the reparations of the first, and then an entire series of wars throughout the Middle East caused by the purblind drafting of the boundaries of the States of the area without reference to any expertise – you may have seen Rory Stewart’s masterful and well-overdue presentation of the subject recently on BBC2.

    As usual in Europe, the report disappeared into the maw of the juggernaut, and I shrugged my shoulders and went on to other things. It therefore came as some surprise to find chunks of my text quoted verbatim by Mitterand agreeing exactly such a work with Merkel. Mirabile dictu!

    I now speak ex-cathedra. My own operation set a new dynamic in history, forcing Nations to talk to Nations. I was deeply involved in the debalkanisation of the Balkans, and if one thing has become clear, it is this: most of that problem was caused by deliberate, malevolent mythologisation. You may have heard of the corollary: the above concepts have now become such dogma as to have been used as justification to put the brakes on Croatia’s application to join Europe, very much as a warning to the entire region: their education is unbelievably bigotted to this day, and is a perfect recipe for more troubles in the future.

    And that is part of the point of history: if you don’t remember it, you’re condemned to repeat it. But that’s not enough, you have to understand how it influences today, and that can include calling bovine ordure BS. The very fact the history of science fades out in 1660 according to the classical presentations such as that just presented by Jim Al-Khalili is evident nonsense when you start examining the earlier history such people point you towards. There’s a clear dichotomy between the evidence in the Royal Arsenal collection formerly in the Tower of London and now in Leeds, which shows an argued and detailed development of metallurgy from Roman times, the evidence in the medical collection in the Galileo museum in Florence which puts Hunter to shame, and the sheer mythology these people pronounce. I’ve started showing here how one person’s ideas fed another over two hundred and fifty years – with thanks to our real expert, our host – further back than the British history shows. What I’d love to discover is serious evidence about the development of agrochemistry during that period, on the basis of the hints in the Books of Hours. A rough working outline suggests crop rotation was a result of the arabic translations we see in other areas, and the four-year rotation which arrived in the UK in the eighteenth century seems to have started in the Lowlands as much as two hundred years earlier. Going further back than 1400 becomes rather problematical, however: one must leave an ambition to another generation. The time-lines to examine are monastic practices, for certain, using such subjects as the Cistercian use of hydraulic engineering as a handle on irrigation, and the little-known Pontifexes, but even there we’re in the domain of religious dogma and the associated confusions of imagery over reality.

    As far as alchemy itself is concerned, be careful yet again about the Victorian dogma. I have myself seen somebody literally rise from their deathbed, where they had less than ten minutes life expectancy, after being given a monatomic treatment prepared by a company which had been studying alchemy: there is every likelihood that there was indeed something to the elixir of life. They were sitting up within five minutes, after a week in a coma, and in ten were out of bed. They survived another five years. Equally, both van Helmont and some of the modern students of the Wet Path report success in the full transmutation, and I’ve seen other reports of 1600 stating exactly the same. This may not be such nonsense as we’ve been led to understand.

    The reason some Profs get away with it is that the academic world is about tenure: you can be as mad as a hatter, but as long as you have tenure and continue publishing something your loyal followers are prepared to defend, then there’s no way you can be shifted. It’s not unlike the Clergy, indeed it’s exactly like the Clergy because five hundred years ago they WERE the Clergy – and not even five hundred years ago, a hundred and fifty, if you examine the history of Oxford University.

  22. jeb

    hmmm. One of my ancesters if the poem concerning him is correct stalked the Scottish borders in victorian times with an Iron tiped staff
    to ward of the faries. His speciality was curing cattle with a strange white powder he blew in there faces. He also used it help victims of magic.

    He seems to have been involved in helping solve local crimes, scared the wits out of children with his stories and seems to have delighted in hounding one old lady who he believed to be a witch.

    I don’t view such activity as non-sense and I am sure in his treatment of cattle their was perhaps some science involved along the way.

    But I think such activities have been studied from a somewhat limited perspective. I also suspect this may be the same for some of Van Helmot’s perspectives.

    But I prefer to look at these things from a full top to bottom cultural perspective.

    But then if I had seen a sheep brought back from a near death experiance by such means I suspect my attitude may be diffrent but I don’t think I would let my personal observations affect my research
    or conclusions.

    That would be a matter for science to decide and investigate not me. My interests approach and questions are partly concerned with science but what I do is very diffrent from what a scientist does.

    • van Helmont was a pivot point, I think. It’s the equivalent of taking a Basel patent examiner and turning him into the founding father of the next generation of physics. His son’s write-up of the transmutation should be pinned up on every chemistry classroom wall, not only to remind us where we started from, but also to remind us that we often miss things out of prejudice.

      The distinction between van Helmont and John Dee is that van Helmont is recognised as having generated ideas assumed by their succession. Even the scientific wing of the Vatican accepted this: that’s why the future Pope Leo XIII tore van Helmont’s farmhouse apart looking for more evidence in 1843-4 – they never did anything like that to Mortlake, which became a tapestry factory.

      I’m overtly rebelling against Frances Yates, who claims a Rosicrusian descent from a circle including Dee, of which not only is there no real evidemce whatsoever, but which has no antecedents either: at least I’m showing a hard connection. There were a number of such rewriters of history of her Enid Blyton generation, people like Evelyn Underhill, whose relations with Crowley’s circle should cast more than a disparagement on their thinking. I’m not saying she didn’t loosen up thinking, an act without which we would not be discussing this today, but it is one thing to study the satanic sects such as FUDOSI within the broader church of Rosicrucianism, and something totally different to accept their claims to influence science, which are to say the least unproven after three hundred years. That FUDOSI put the naughty in the 1890s is irrefutible, as the moving spirit behind Mata Hari and her circle of libertines, but nowhere does that show any hard output on science: it is only in the wilder imagination of PC games that such things exist.

      A sheep? No, a human being, in hospital, suffering from lethal calcium poisoning caused by an extreme immune system reaction. It led to a series of stabilisation techniques for osteoporosis, which is why it’s not as bad as it was twenty years ago.

      van Helmont’s entire point was exactly the opposite to your thoughts on personal observations, research and conclusions. He rejected paracelsianism and started afresh from pure empiricism: of course, the treatment must be reproducible, and preferably comprehensible, but if you truly intend looking under every stone you must let each observation stand in exactly its own right, neither diminished or inflated, until you can discover its truth in context. I tracked down that research myself, with the bonus coincidence that one of the workers was the patient’s uncle, although he did not know any details when I questioned him. Yes, masonic alchemical studies in a leading metallurgical firm trading in precious metals has got somewhere, and they have a very thriving division now producing the outcomes of their studies, marketed through Roche. Oddly enough, the quacks tend to resort to paracelsianism in describing the products, using terms like “platinum salts”, which they are not. The best inderstanding of how they work is with titanium
      monatomics, where the shell may act as a catalyst for the payload – but how something much less catalytic as platinum does it is anybody’s guess. Like a bee, we’re just happy to know that it goes.

      Has alchemy had an unfair press? No: most alchemy failed because of inadequate technology, and the worst was diabolical. If it had succeeded, moreover, it would have been an environmental disaster as we consumed all the woodlands. But the little which seems to have succeeded – and note my caution, until someone publishes a paper showing how it is done, peer-reviewed and reproducible – definitely had an affect on the real world of science, not least by establishing that very criterion by which I express caution.

      • jeb

        I don’t explain very well what I do but I don’t think this is the place to do it in detail. It’s very diffrent from youre interests. I suspect the areas i look at are not foremost in youre mind.

        I got into it by accedent really. I noticed that their appeared to be a high level of accurate discriptions concerning fight or flight syndrome in 12th cen. wild man texts.

        I just thought at first it was going to help me in identifying places like Soutra (a medieval hospital) slap bang in the origin centre and point of distribution for this foundation legend in its European context. As the possible workplace or information centre for the scribes involved in the production of such material. Their work and educational background.

        But it soon proved a bit more interesting than that first crude thought.

        But central to my study is narrative, how it is constructed? How does it move? what ideas reinforce it? and how the hell do I classify it and deal with the repitition and diffrences caused by it’s movment through space and time.

        Most folks look at a religious or belief origin for these things. Its become quite a repetition.
        Its certainly a part of it.

        I am glad I can look at things diffrently and examine and gain knowledge of a more interesting and rewarding subject, which also helps develop my analitical skills and methodology.

        As everything is bound up it saves time as you can do a number of things at once.

        Rather helpfull given the extent of work you have to do tracing these subjects through time.

        I do find youre views on alchemy somewhat difficult to accept on the basis of the evidence you present.

        Ive got more than a few areas related to the narritive I look at which look like they may be related. But if I can’t find enough evidence to present a pretty solid case. I don’t see the point of trying to claim I am correct in arguments.

        I think it would damage the credibility of the my work as a whole to do so.

        But i don’t wish to take up anymore space on the site.

        Just have to respectfull disagree with a few of the key points you are making.

    • It’s also relevant that you take a Universalist viewpoint: I don’t condemn, but you must understand both sides of that street to handle mediaeval theology, because the kingpin theologer was the Chancellor of the University of Paris, who was forced to do the same, to hold a secular University full of Abelardian nominalists in check on the one hand, and the Schools fundamentalists like the Victorine Realists who were producing the real theological output on the other. As a study of how this came about, read Ferruolo, The Origins of the University, and the Guenée Between Church and State, which is the current reference for the life of d’Ailly, a little after the Ferruolo study finishes. That’s why I seem to drift, I’m trying to fairly represent thinking on the views of several sides to the story in a fair manner, not falling into the anachronistic traps of trying to assign subsequent concepts to earlier voices. As the prosecutor of Jan Huss who ended up burned at the stake in the middle of the Council pf Constance, I know exactly what d’Ailly would have done to anybody who tried coopting his thinking in the cause of the Enlightenment while he was alive! Certain aspects of Hus’ trial are worthy of Monty Python, such as d’Ailly’s refusal to allow him to recant doctrines he never taught: indeed, the entire thing wasn’t so much a setup (Hus participating under safe conduct which was never recognised) as the extermination of a doctrinal challenge to d’Ailly’s plans to reinstate Papal supremacy in the eschatology of the Eucharist. As Hus couldn’t possibly have known d’Ailly’s plans, which we can only see from his more theoretical writings as they are worked out by his followers long after d’Ailly’s own death, the poor guy must go down as one of the biggest patsies of all time. However, it speaks volumes about d’Ailly’s determination and orientation.

  23. jeb

    p.s I was a bit uncomfortable makeing the sheep reference as I am sure the loss of youre freind must have been upsetting.

    As I am sure you are aware at times like this people will resort to all sorts of unusual methods of treatment. My mother certainly did at one stage of her illness wasting money in the processes.

    The people who play on these concerns and their are a large number are something of a concern.

    Alchemical cures are linked to on david Ickies site for example. I was unfamiliar with a couple of terms you used in relation to the treatment you discussed and did an online search.

    Wonder cures on David Ickies site was the top hit.
    I had no idea he was intrested in alchemy.
    Do you not think that you may be lending support to such creatures? Even if inadvertantly.

    A well researched work making such claims could do a great deal of damage in this regard.

    As it would be rather difficult for members of the public to determine the truth of such claims. It just has to look athoritive to work and give credence and legitamacy to any number of charlatans working in this area.

  24. Reblogged this on The Magician at Work and commented:
    Day #44 – Isaac Newton: Alchemist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s