+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error



It is the custom in these days to speak of
alchemy as a "dream;" but it was by no
means one of those dreams that come in sleep.
It was, on the contrary, the hard work and
the hard watching of a lifetime. The angels
and "the giants who were upon the earth in
those days," are handed down by tradition
as the earliest possessors of the secrets of
alchemy, but they all went out with Noah's
deluge, and their labours followed them. The
early Egyptians are quite ancient enough,
and as far back in antiquity as any "little
candle" which we possess "can shed its rays."
The emerald tablet found in the tomb of
Hermes Trismegistus by Alexander the Great
is the earliest record, and Hermes Trismegistus
is the first patriarch of the science whose
name has been handed down, though, of
course, he must have had masters and teachers
who were before him. This emerald tablet,
however is, we are sorry to sayone would
have been so glad to have believed in its existence
if not a pious, at least a scientific,
fraud, and belongs to a much later date. It
contained an inscription in thirteen propositions,
upon which the alchemists bestowed
great pains to discover the meaning. As they
are not very long, we subjoin them as they
have come down, for the benefit of such of
our readers as love to study the dark sayings
of old:

I. I speak not fiction, but what is certain and most

II. What is below is like that which is above, and
what is above is like that which is below, for performing
the miracle of one thing.

III. And as all things were produced from one, by
the meditation of one, so all things were produced
from this one thing by adaptation.

IV. Its father is the sun, its mother was the moon,
the wind carried it in its belly, its nurse is the earth.

V. It is the cause of all perfection throughout the
whole world.

VI. Its power is perfect if it be changed into the

VII. Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle
from the gross, gently and with judgment.

VIII. It ascends from earth to heaven, and
descends again to earth. Thus you will possess the
glory of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly
away from you.

IX. This thing is the fortitude of all fortitude, because
it overcomes all subtile things, and penetrates
every solid thing.

X. Thus were all things created.

XI. Hence proceed wonderful adaptations, which
are produced in this way.

XII. Therefore am I called Hermes Trismegistus,
possessing the three parts of the philosophy of the
whole world.

XIII. That I had to say concerning the operation
of the sun is completed.

These thirteen mysterious sayings nearly
drove the followers of alchemy to distraction.
They, however, religiously followed
the example of their master, and
enveloped whatever knowledge they possessed
in the most impenetrable coat of darkness,
but it was a coat embroidered and spangled
with such seducing figures of speech, such
mystical birds, beasts, and flowers, that the
reader is enticed by their strange beauty.
We have now at our elbow a pile of old
alchemical tracts and treatises. They are,
one and all, profoundly unintelligible, but
they speak their unknown tongue with so
much grave and earnest emphasis that it is
difficult not to believe they are pointing out
the road to a mysterious, unknown world, full
of strange beautyif one only could
understand their directions!

The authentic records of alchemy that
have come down to us do not begin before
the eighth century.* It was the Arabians
who gave it the shape and dignity of a
science. The Arabians came into Egypt,
which they overran as they did other countries
like a swarm of locusts, they destroyed the
great library of Alexandria, and, by so doing,
seemed to have extinguished the last spark
of learning; but if ever that savage belief
that the virtues of the conquered foe pass into
the person of the conqueror, seemed to be
borne out by the result, it was so in this instance.
The Arabians absorbed and assimilated
the knowledge of the people they
conquered. They were themselves set on fire
* The destruction of ancient manuscripts had,
previously to this, taken place on a large scale. Diocletian
has the credit of having burned the books of the Egyptians
on the chemistry of gold and silver. Caesar is said to
have burned us many as seven hundred thousand rolls at
Alexandria; and Leo Isaurus three hundred thousand at
Constantinople, in the eighth century, about the time
the Arabians burned the library at Alexandria.