Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), also known as Doctor Mirabilis (Latin: "astounding teacher"), was one of the most famous Franciscan friars of his time. He was an English philosopher who placed considerable emphasis on empiricism, and has been presented as one of the earliest advocates of the modern scientific method in the West; though later studies have emphasized his reliance on occult and alchemical traditions. He was intimately acquainted with the philosophical and scientific insights of the Arab world, one of the most advanced civilizations at the time.
He is sometimes credited, mainly starting in the 19th century, as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method inspired by the works of Aristotle and later pseudo-Aristotelian works, like the works of Egyptian scientist Alhazen. However, more recent reevaluations emphasize that he was essentially a medieval thinker, with much of his "experimental" knowledge obtained from books, in the scholastic tradition. A survey of the reception of Bacon's work over centuries found that it often reflects the concerns and controversies central to the receivers.
English scientist Roger Bacon's 800-year-old tonic for what ails us: The truth
PhysOrg - May 5, 2020
English scientist Roger Bacon's 800-year-old tonic for what ails us: The truth. It seems that science has been taking a beating lately. From decades of denial by the tobacco industry that smoking causes cancer to more recent attempts to use the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points, a presumption seems to have taken root that it is okay to seek and speak the truth only when it suits personal interest. In times like these, we urgently need leaders who know what they are talking about and whose commitment to truth exceeds their loyalty to party or person - among them, the sort of people long known as scientists ("those who know," the literal meaning of scientist). COVID-19 is a kind of plague, but so is ignorance, and only by addressing the latter can society tackle the former.
This year marks what is believed by many to be the 800th birthday of an especially courageous truth seeker, the English polymath Roger Bacon. Though other scientists came before him, his breadth of study has led many to call him "the first scientist." Were he alive today, Bacon would likely be pursuing the truth about such matters as the coronavirus and its effects on society, as well as the need for personal and political virtues to overcome it.
Because Bacon lived so long ago, we know more about his ideas than his life. Born in Somerset, England, his family appears to have been well off, and he studied and taught at two of Europe's oldest universities, beginning at Oxford. After earning his master of arts degree, he accepted an invitation to teach at the University of Paris for about a decade before eventually returning to Oxford.
Bacon believed that the improvement of human life, both personally and socially, depends on the eradication of error. To correct what ails society, it is necessary to restore respect for learning, real-world experience and the pursuit of truth. So long as people go forth with a false map of reality, they will lose their way and never reach their true destination.
The importance of the right question
Bacon argued that there are four causes of error: 1) weak and unworthy authority, 2) longstanding customs, 3) the opinions of ignorant crowds, and 4) the hiding of ignorance through displays of apparent knowledge.
What people often lack, Bacon believed, are not correct answers but the best questions. To advance knowledge, people must subject authorities to scrutiny, winnowing away the unreliable. Who is speaking the truth, and on what basis, and who is merely mouthing what people want to hear?
In Bacon's view, too many people lapse into a credulity of habit, simply accepting what they have been told over and over. To combat this tendency, he called for experimentation, but not only in the sense of a scientific laboratory. He believed that people should put their ideas on trial, seeing how well they fare when tested in the real world of experience. What doesn't hold up should be rejected.
Bacon gave the example of fire, writing, "Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove doubt so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience." Only someone who actually sees fire burn will understand what it can do.
Without proper habits of mind, Bacon argued, society would be mired in ignorance and failure. Only if institutions of learning such as universities fulfill their proper function can society find and stick to its proper course. And all persons, he believed, have both the capacity and the responsibility to think for themselves and keep their community on track.
Bacon expressed deep antipathy toward those who merely pretend to know, such as magicians who pretend to use scientific methods. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt more recently referred to such pretenders as "bullshitters." Ignorance is bad, but pretending to know is even worse, because it undermines trust.
On ignorance and corruption
Bacon treated ignorance so harshly partly because he saw that it sowed the seeds of corruption.
Extrapolating from Bacon, regular scrutiny is necessary if political leaders are to act responsibly. The last thing any good political leader needs is to be surrounded by yes men. It is through the contest between differing points of view that people are most likely to arrive at the truth.
This perspective helps to explain both Bacon's promotion of the science he called "perspective" and his lifelong dedication to the study of languages such as Greek and Hebrew. To determine the best perspective from which to understand something, it is first necessary to look at it from multiple points of view.
Above all, Bacon promoted humility. People must seek to know the truth and cling to what they have proved by experience to be valid. But they must also recognize the limits of their own knowledge, seek out the advice of experts, and pursue deeper understanding.
This was Bacon's life's work. "No one," he wrote, "worked in so many sciences and languages as I did, nor so much as I. And yet I did not work that much, since in the pursuit of wisdom no work" - of the sort one might resent "was required."
Like Aristotle, he believed that it is human nature to desire to know. There is, he held, nothing more natural and also more necessary and beneficial to humanity than pursuing the Truth. I agree.
Bacon was one of those remarkable human beings who seem to know just about everything. An expert on the thought of the ancient philosopher Aristotle, he also taught mathematics, astronomy, music, optics, alchemy (a forerunner of chemistry), moral philosophy and theology. Because of the depth and breadth of learning reflected in his Opus Majus ("Great Work"), composed at the Pope's request to describe his studies, he became known as Doctor Mirabilis or "Wonderful Teacher."
Roger Bacon was born in Ilchester in Somerset, England, possibly in 1213 or 1214 at the Ilchester Friary. The only source for his date of birth is his statement in the Opus Tertium, written in 1267, that "forty years have passed since I first learned the alphabet". The 1214 birth date assumes he was not being literal, and may have meant 40 years had passed since he matriculated at Oxford at the age of 13. If he had been literal, his birth date was more likely to have been around 1220/1222. In the same passage he reports that for all but two of those forty years he had always been engaged in study. His family appears to have been well-off, but, during the stormy reign of Henry III of England, their property was despoiled and several members of the family were driven into exile.
Bacon studied at Oxford and may have been a disciple of Grosseteste. He became a master at Oxford, lecturing on Aristotle. There is no evidence he was ever awarded a doctorate - the title Doctor Mirabilis was posthumous and figurative. Sometime between 1237 and 1245, he began to lecture at the university of Paris, then the centre of intellectual life in Europe.
His whereabouts between 1247 and 1256 are uncertain, but about 1256 he became a friar in the Franciscan Order. As a Franciscan friar, Bacon no longer held a teaching post, and after 1260 his activities were further restricted by a Franciscan statute forbidding friars from publishing books or pamphlets without specific approval.
Bacon circumvented this restriction through his acquaintance with Cardinal Guy le Gros de Foulques, who became Pope Clement IV in 1265. The new Pope issued a mandate ordering Bacon to write to him concerning the place of philosophy within theology. As a result Bacon sent the Pope his Opus Majus, which presented his views on how the philosophy of Aristotle and the new science could be incorporated into a new Theology. Besides the Opus maius Bacon also sent his Opus minus, De multiplicatione specierum, and, perhaps, other works on alchemy and astrology.
Pope Clement died in 1268. Sometime between 1277 and 1279, Bacon was probably imprisoned or placed under house arrest. The circumstances for this are still mysterious. Sometime after 1278 Bacon returned to the Franciscan House at Oxford, where he continued his studies. He is believed to have died in 1294.
The Opus Majus (Latin for "Greater Work") is the most important work of Roger Bacon, containing treatments of mathematics and optics, alchemy, and the positions and sizes of the celestial bodies.
It was written in Medieval Latin, at the request of Pope Clement IV, to explain the work that Bacon had undertaken. The 840-page treatise ranges over all aspects of natural science, from grammar and logic to mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Bacon sent his work to the Pope in 1267, accompanied by a letter of dedication which was found by F. A. Gasquet in the Vatican Library and published in 1897. It was followed later the same year by a smaller second work, his Opus Minus, which was intended as an abstract or summary of the longer work, followed shortly by a third work, Opus Tertium, as a preliminary introduction to the other two.
The Opus Majus (Latin for "Greater Work") is the most important work of Roger Bacon. It was written in Medieval Latin, at the request of Pope Clement IV, to explain the work that Bacon had undertaken. The 840-page treatise ranges over all aspects of natural science, from grammar and logic to mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Bacon sent his work to the Pope in 1267, accompanied by a letter of dedication which was found by F. A. Gasquet in the Vatican Library and published in 1897. It was followed later the same year by a smaller second work, his Opus Minus, which was intended as an abstract or summary of the longer work, followed shortly by a third work, Opus Tertium, as a preliminary introduction to the other two.
The Opus Majus is divided into seven parts:
Part two considers the relationship between philosophy and theology, concluding that theology (and particularly Holy Scripture) is the foundation of all sciences.
Part three contains a study of Bibilical languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, as a knowledge of language and grammar is necessary to understand revealed wisdom.
Parts four, five, and six consider, respectively, mathematics, optics, and experimental science. They include a review of alchemy and the manufacture of gunpowder and of the positions and sizes of the celestial bodies, and anticipates later inventions, such as microscopes, telescopes, spectacles, flying machines, hydraulics and steam ships. The study of optics in part five seems to draw on the works of the Arab writers Kindi and Alhazen, including a discussion of the physiology of eyesight, the anatomy of the eye and the brain, and considers light, distance, position, and size, direct vision, reflected vision, and refraction, mirrors and lenses.
Part seven considers moral philosophy and ethics.
As a recent paper emphasizes, this major work can not be usefully read exclusively in the context of the history of science and philosophy while forgetting to consider Bacon's religious commitment to the Franciscan Order. "His Opus maius was a plea for reform addressed to the supreme spiritual head of the Christian faith, written against a background of apocalyptic expectation and informed by the driving concerns of the friars. It was designed to improve training for missionaries and to provide new skills to be employed in the defense of the Christian world against the enmity of non-Christians and of the Antichrist".
Drawing on the recently discovered Greco-Muslim astronomy and on the calendaric writings of Robert Grosseteste, Bacon criticized the Julian calendar, describing it as intolerable, horrible and laughable. He proposed to correct its errors by deleting a day from the calendar every 125 or 130 days.
The study of optics in part five of Opus Majus draws heavily on the works of both Claudius Ptolemy (his Optics in Arabic translation) and the Islamic scientists Alkindus (al-Kindi) and Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham). He includes a discussion of the physiology of eyesight, the anatomy of the eye and the brain, and considers light, distance, position, and size, direct vision, reflected vision, and refraction, mirrors and lenses.
His research in optics was primarily oriented by the legacy of Alhazen through a Latin translation of the latter's monumental Kitab al-manazir (De aspectibus; Perspectivae; The Optics), while the impact of the tradition of al-Kindi (Alkindus) was principally mediated through the influence that this Muslim scholar had on the optics of Robert Grosseteste. Moreover, Bacon's investigations of the properties of the magnifying glass partly rested on the handed-down legacy of Islamic opticians, mainly Alhazen, who was in his turn influenced by Ibn Sahl's 10th century legacy in dioptrics.
Bacon is often considered the first European to describe a mixture containing the essential ingredients of gunpowder. Based on two passages from Bacon's Opus Maius and Opus Tertium, extensively analyzed by J. R. Partington, several scholars cited by Joseph Needham concluded that Bacon had most likely witnessed at least one demonstration of Chinese firecrackers, possibly obtained with the intermediation of other Franciscans, like his friend William of Rubruck, who had visited the Mongols.
The most telling passage reads: "We have an example of these things (that act on the senses) in the sound and fire of that children's toy which is made in many diverse parts of the world; i.e. a device no bigger than one's thumb. From the violence of that salt called saltpetre together with sulphur and willow charcoal, combined into a powder so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, no more than a bit of parchment containing it, that we find [the ear assaulted by a noise exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash brighter than the most brilliant lightning."
More controversial are the claims originating with Royal Artillery colonel Henry William Lovett Hime (at the beginning of the 20th century) that a cryptogram existed in Bacon's Epistola, giving the ratio of ingredients of the mixture. These were published, among other places, in the 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.
The scientific training Bacon had received showed him the rare defects in existing academic debate. Aristotle was known only through translations, as none of the professors would learn Greek; the same was true of Scripture and many of the other auctores ("authorities") referenced in traditional education. In contrast to Aristotle's argument that facts be collected before deducing scientific truths, physical science was not carried out by observations from the natural world, but by arguments based solely on tradition and prescribed authorities (see Scholasticism).
Bacon withdrew from the scholastic routine and devoted himself to languages and experimental research. The mathematicians whom he considered perfect were Peter of Maricourt and John of London, and two were good: Campanus of Novara and a Master Nicholas. Peter was the author of a famous letter to a friend, Epistola de Magnete, in which he described some of the earliest European experiments with magnetism. Campanus wrote several important works on astronomy, astrology, and the calendar. Bacon often mentioned his debt to the work of Robert Grosseteste and Adam Marsh, as well as to other lesser figures. He was clearly not an isolated scholar in the thirteenth century.
> In his writings, Bacon calls for a reform of theological study. Less emphasis should be placed on minor philosophical distinctions than had been the case in scholasticism. Instead, the Bible itself should return to the centre of attention and theologians should thoroughly study the languages in which their original sources were composed. He was fluent in several languages and lamented the corruption of the holy texts and the works of the Greek philosophers by numerous mistranslations and misinterpretations.
Furthermore, he urged all theologians to study all sciences closely, and to add them to the normal university curriculum. With regard to the obtaining of knowledge, he strongly championed experimental study over reliance on authority, arguing that "thence cometh quiet to the mind". Bacon did not restrict this approach to theological studies. He rejected the blind following of prior authorities, both in theological and scientific study, which was the accepted method of undertaking study in his day.
In the Opus Minus he criticizes his contemporaries Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus who, he says, had not studied the philosophy of Aristotle but only acquired their learning during their life as preachers. Albert was received at Paris as an authority equal to Aristotle, Avicenna, and Averroes, leading Bacon to proclaim that "never in the world had such monstrosity occurred before."
The scientific training Bacon had received showed him the defects in existing academic debate. Aristotle was known only through poor translations, as none of the professors would learn Greek. The same was true of Scripture. Physical science was not carried out by experiment in the Aristotelian way, but by arguments based on tradition.
Bacon withdrew from the scholastic routine and devoted himself to languages and experimental research. The only teacher whom he respected was a certain Petrus de Maharncuria Picardus, or "of Picardie", probably identical with a certain mathematician, Petrus Peregrinus of Picardie, who is perhaps the author of a manuscript treatise, De Magnete, contained in the Bibliotheque Imperiale at Paris. The contrast between the obscurity of such a man and the fame enjoyed by the fluent young doctors roused Bacon's indignation.
In the Opus Minus and Opus Tertium he pours forth a violent tirade against Alexander of Hales, and another professor, who, he says, acquired his learning by teaching others, and adopted a dogmatic tone, which caused him to be received at Paris with applause as the equal of Aristotle, Avicenna, or Averroes. Bacon was always an outspoken man who stated what he believed to be true and attacked those with whom he disagreed, which repeatedly caused him great trouble.
In 1256 a new head of the scientific branch of the Franciscan order in England was appointed: Richard of Cornwall, with whom Bacon had strongly disagreed in the past. Before long, Bacon was transferred to a monastery in France, where for about 10 years he could communicate with his intellectual peers only in writing.
Bacon wrote to the Cardinal Guy le Gros de Foulques, who became interested in his ideas and asked him to produce a comprehensive treatise. Bacon, being constrained by a rule of the Franciscan order against publishing works out of the order without special permission, initially hesitated.
The cardinal became Pope Clement IV and urged Bacon to ignore the prohibition and write the book in secret. Bacon complied and sent his work, the Opus Majus, a treatise on the sciences (grammar, logic, mathematics, physics, and philosophy), to the pope in 1267. It was followed in the same year by the Opus Minus (also known as Opus Secundum), a summary of the main thoughts from the first work.
In 1268, he sent a third work, the Opus Tertium to the pope, who died the same year, apparently before even seeing the Opus Majus although it is known that the work reached Rome.
Some claim that Bacon fell out of favor, and was later imprisoned by the Franciscan order in 1278 in Ancona as his dissemination of Arab alchemy, and his protests against the ignorance and immorality of the clergy, roused accusations of witchcraft.
He supposedly stayed imprisoned for over ten years, until intercession of English noblemen secured his release. About this episode, the historian of science David C. Lindberg, quoted by James Hannam, says that "his imprisonment, if it occurred at all probably resulted with his sympathies for the radical 'poverty' wing of the Franciscans (a wholly theological matter) rather than from any scientific novelties which he may have proposed."
Bacon died without important followers, was quickly forgotten, and remained so for a long time.
In his writings, Bacon calls for a reform of theological study. Less emphasis should be placed on minor philosophical distinctions as in scholasticism, but instead the Bible itself should return to the center of attention and theologians should thoroughly study the languages in which their original sources were composed. He was fluent in several languages and lamented the corruption of the holy texts and the works of the Greek philosophers by numerous mistranslations and misinterpretations. Furthermore, he urged all theologians to study all sciences closely, and to add them to the normal university curriculum.
He possessed one of the most commanding intellects of his age, or perhaps of any, and, notwithstanding all the disadvantages and discouragements to which he was subjected, made many discoveries, and came near to many others. He rejected the blind following of prior authorities, both in theological and scientific study.
His Opus Majus contains treatments of mathematics and optics, alchemy and the manufacture of gunpowder, the positions and sizes of the celestial bodies, and anticipates later inventions such as microscopes, telescopes, spectacles, flying machines and steam ships.
Bacon studied astrology and believed that the celestial bodies had an influence on the fate and mind of humans. He also wrote a criticism of the Julian calendar which was then still in use. He first recognized the visible spectrum in a glass of water, centuries before Sir Isaac Newton discovered that prisms could disassemble and reassemble white light.
Roger Bacon is considered by some to be the author of the Voynich Manuscript, because of his studies in the fields of alchemy, astrology, and languages.
Bacon is also the ascribed author of the alchemical manual Speculum Alchemiae, which was translated into English as The Mirror of Alchemy in 1597.
He was an enthusiastic proponent and practitioner of the experimental method of acquiring knowledge about the world. He planned to publish a comprehensive encyclopedia, but only fragments ever appeared.
In many ancient Books there are found many definitions of this Art, the intentions whereof we must consider in this Chapter. For Hermes said of this Science: Alchemy is a Corporal Science simply composed of one and by one, naturally conjoining things more precious, by knowledge and effect, and converting them by a natural commixtion into a better kind. A certain other said: Alchemy is a Science, teaching how to transform any kind of metal into another: and that by a proper medicine, as it appeared by many Philosophers' Books. Alchemy therefore is a science teaching how to make and compound a certain medicine, which is called Elixir, the which when it is cast upon metals or imperfect bodies, does fully perfect them in the very projection.
Secondly, I will perfectly declare the natural principles and procreations of Minerals: where first it is to be noted, that the natural principles in the mines, are Argent-vive, and Sulphur. All metals and minerals, whereof there be sundry and diverse kinds, are begotten of these two: but: I must tell you, that nature always intends and strives to the perfection of Gold: but many accidents coming between, change the metals, as it is evidently to be seen in diverse of the Philosophers books. For according to the purity and impurity of the two aforesaid principles, Argent-vive, and Sulphur, pure, and impure metals are engendered: to wit, Gold, Silver, Steel, Lead, Copper, and Iron: of whose nature, that is to say, purity, and impurity, or unclean superfluity and defect, give ear to that which follows.
Gold is a perfect body, engendered of Argent-vive pure, fixed, clear, red, and of Sulphur clean, fixed, red, not burning, and it wants nothing.
Silver is a body, clean, pure, and almost perfect, begotten of Argent-vive, pure, almost fixed, clear, and white, and of such a like Sulphur: It wants nothing, save a little fixation, color, and weight.
Steel is a body clean, imperfect, engendered of Argent-vive pure, fixed & not fixed clear, white outwardly, but red inwardly, and of the like Sulphur. It wants only decoction or digestion,
Lead is an unclean and imperfect body, engendered of Argent-vive impure, not fixed, earthy, dressy, somewhat white outwardly, and red inwardly, and of such a Sulphur in part burning, It wants purity, fixation, color, and firing.
Copper is an unclean and imperfect body, engendered of Argent-vive, impure, not fixed, earthy, burning, red not clear, and of the like Sulphur. It wants purity, fixation, and weight: and has too much of an impure color, and earthiness not burning.
Iron is an unclean and imperfect body, engendered of Argent-vive impure, too much fixed, earthy, burning, white and red not clear, and of the like Sulphur: It wants fusion, purity, and weight: It has too much fixed unclean Sulphur, and burning earthiness. That which has been spoken, every Alchemist must diligently observe.
The generation of metals, as well perfect, as imperfect, is sufficiently declared by that which has been already spoken, Now let us return to the imperfect matter that must be chosen and made perfect.
Seeing that by the former Chapters we have been taught, that all metals are engendered of Argent-vive and Sulphur, and how that their impurity and uncleanness does corrupt, and that nothing may be mingled with metals which have not been made or sprung from them, it: remains clean enough, that no strange thing which has not his original from these two, is able to perfect them, or to make a Change and new transmutation of them: so that it is to be wondered at, that any wise man should set his mind upon living creatures, or vegetables which are far off, when there be minerals to be found near enough: neither may we in any way think, that any of the Philosophers placed the Art in the said remote things, except it were by way of comparison: but of the aforesaid two, all metals are made, neither does any thing cleave unto them or is joined with them, not yet changes them, but that which is of them, and so of right we must take Argent-vive and Sulphur for the matter of our stone: Neither does Argent-vive by itself alone, nor Sulphur by itself alone, beget any metal, but of the commixtion of them both, diverse metals and minerals are diversely brought forth. Our matter therefore must be chosen of the commixtion of them both: but our final secret is most excellent, and most hidden, to wit, of what mineral thing that is more near than others, it should be made: and in making choice hereof, we must be very wary.
I put the case then, if our matter were first of all drawn out of vegetables, (of which sort are herbs, trees, and whatsoever springs out of the earth) here we must first make Argent-vive & Sulphur, by a long decoction, from which things, and their operation we are excused: for nature herself offers unto us Argent-vive and Sulphur. And if we should draw it from living creatures (of which sort is man's blood, hair, urine, excrements, hens' eggs, and what else proceed from living creatures) we must likewise out of them extract Argent-vive and Sulphur by decoction, from which we are freed, as we were before.
Or if we should choose it out of middle minerals (of which sort are all kinds of Magnesia, Marchasites, of Tutia, Coppers, Allums, Baurach, Salts, and many other) we should likewise, as afore, extract Argent-vive and Sulphur by decoction: from which as from the former, we are also excused. And if we should take one of the seven spirits by itself, as Argent-vive, or Sulphur alone, or Argent-vive and one of the two Sulphurs, or Sulphur-vive, or Auripigment, or Citrine Arsenicum, or red alone, or the like: we should never effect it, because since nature does never perfect anything without equal commixtion of both, neither can we: from these therefore, as from the foresaid Argent-vive and Sulphur in their nature we are excused.
Finally, if we should choose them, we should mix everything as it is, according to a due proportion, which no man knows, and afterward decoct it to coagulation, into a solid lump: and therefore we are excused from receiving both of them in their proper nature: to wit, Argent-vive and Sulphur, seeing we know not their proportion, and that we may meet with bodies, wherein we shall find the said things proportioned, coagulated and gathered together, after a due manner. Keep this secret more secretly.
Gold is a perfect masculine body, without any superfluity or diminution: and if it: should perfect imperfect bodies mingled with it by melting only, it should be Elixir to red. Silver is also a body almost perfect, and feminine, which if it should almost perfect imperfect bodies by his common melting only, it should be Elixir to white which it is not, nor cannot be, because they only are perfect.
And if this perfection might be mixed with the imperfect, the imperfect should not be perfected with the perfect, but rather their perfection's should be diminished by the imperfect, and become imperfect. But if they were more than perfect, either in a two-fold, four-fold, hundred-fold, or larger proportion, they might then well perfect the imperfect. And forasmuch as nature does always work simply, the perfection which is in them is simple, inseparable, and incommiscible, neither may they by art be put in the stone, for ferment to shorten the work, and so brought to their former state, because the most volatile does overcome the most fixed.
And for that gold is a perfect body, consisting of Argent-vive, red and clear, and of such a Sulphur, therefore we choose it not for the matter of our stone to the red Elixir, because it is so simply perfect, without artificial mundification, and so strongly digested and fed with a natural heat, that with our artificial fire, we are scarcely able to work on gold or silver, And though nature does perfect anything, yet she cannot thoroughly mundify, or perfect and purify it, because she simply works on that which she has. If therefore we should choose gold or silver for the matter of the stone, we should hard and scantly find fire working in them.
And although we are not ignorant of the fire, yet could we not come to the thorough mundification and perfection of it, by reason of his most firm knitting together, and natural composition: we are therefore excused for taking the first too red, or the second too white, seeing we may find out a thing or some body of as clean, or rather more clean Sulphur and Argent-vive, on which nature has wrought little or nothing at all, which with our artificial fire, and experience of our art, we are able to bring unto his due concoction, mundification, color and fixation, continuing our ingenious labor upon it.
There must therefore be such a matter chosen, where in there is Argent-vive, clean, pure, clear, white and red, not fully complete, but equally and proportionably commixt after a due manner with the like Sulphur, and congealed into a solid mass, that by our wisdom and discretion, and by our artificial fire, we may attain unto the uttermost cleanness of it, and the purity of the same, and bring it to that pass, that after the work ended, it might be a thousand thousand times more strong and perfect, then the simple bodies themselves, decoct by their natural heat.
Be therefore wise: for if you shall be subtle and witty in my Chapters (wherein by manifest prose I have laid open the matter of the stone easy to be known) you shall taste of that delightful thing, wherein the whole intention of the Philosophers is placed.
I hope ere this time you have already found out by the words already spoken (if you are not most dull, ignorant, and foolish) the certain matter of the learned Philosophers blessed stone, whereon Alchemy works, while we endeavor to perfect the imperfect, and that with things more then perfect. And for that nature has delivered us the imperfect only with the perfect, it is our part to make the matter (in the former Chapters declared unto us) more then perfect by our artificial labor.
And if we know not the manner of working, what is the cause that we do not see how nature (which of long time has perfected metals) does continually work! Do we not see, that in the Mines through the continual heat that is in the mountains thereof, the grossness of water is so decocted and thickened, that in continuance of time it becomes Argent-vive?
And that of the fatness of the earth through the same heat and decoction, Sulphur is engendered! And that through the same heat without intermission continued in them, all metals are engendered of them according to their purity and impurity? and that nature does by decoction alone perfect or make all metals, as well perfect as imperfect? 0 extreme madness! what, I pray you, constrains you to seek to perfect the foresaid things by strange melancholical and fantastical regiments! as one says: Woe to you that will overcome nature, and make metals more then perfect by a new regiment, or work sprung from your own senseless brains.
God has given to nature a straight way, to wit, continual concoction, and you like fools despise it, or else know it not. Again, fire and Azot, are sufficient for you. And in another place, Heat perfects all things. And elsewhere, see, see, see, and be not weary. And in another place, let your fire be gentle, and easy, which being always equal, may continue burning: and let it not increase, for if it does, you shall suffer great loss.
And in another place, Know you that in one thing, to wit, the stone, by one way, to wit, decoction, and in one vessel the whole mastery is performed. And in another place, patiently, and continually, and in another place, grind it seven times.
And in another place, It is ground with fire, And in another place, this work is very like to the creation of man: for as the Infant in the beginning is nourished with light meats, but the bones being strengthened with stronger: so this mastery also, first it must have an easy fire, whereby we must always work in every essence of decoction. And though we always speak of a gentle fire, yet in truth, we think that in governing the work, the fire must always by little and little be increased and augmented unto the end.
The means and manner of working, we have already determined: now we are to speak of the Vessel and Furnace, in what sort, and of what things they must be made. Whereas nature by a natural fire decocts the metals in the Mines, she denies the like decoction to be made without a vessel fit for it. And if we propose to imitate nature in concocting, wherefore do we reject her vessel!
Let us first of all therefore, see in what place the generation of metals is made. It does evidently appear in the places of Minerals, that in the bottom of the mountain there is heat continually alike, the nature whereof is always to ascend, and in the ascension it always dries up, and coagulates the thicker or grosser water hidden in the belly, or veins of the earth, or mountain, into Argent-vive.
And if the mineral fatness of the same place arising out of the earth, be gathered warm together in the veins of the earth, it runs through the mountain, and becomes Sulphur. And as a man may see in the foresaid veins of that place, that Sulphur engendered of the fatness of the earth (as is before touched) meets with the Argent-vive (as it is also written) in the veins of the earth, and begets the thickness of the mineral water. There, through the continual equal heat in the mountain, in long process of time diverse metals are engendered, according to the diversity of the place.
And in these Mineral places, you shall find a continual heat. For this cause we are of right to note, that the external mineral mountain is everywhere shut up within itself, and stony: for if the heat might issue out, there should never be engendered any metal. If therefore we intend to immitate nature, we must needs have such a furnace like unto the Mountains, not in greatness, but in continual heat, so that the fire put in, when it ascends, may find no vent: but that the heat may beat upon the vessel being close shut, containing in it the matter of the stone: which vessel must be round, with a small neck, made of glass or some earth, representing the nature or close knitting together of glass: the mouth whereof must be signed or sealed with a covering of the same matter, or with lute.
And as in the mines, the heat does not immediately touch the matter of Sulphur and Argent-vive, because the earth of the mountain comes everywhere between: So this fire must not immediately touch the vessel, containing the matter of the aforesaid things in it, but it must be put into another vessel, shut closed in the like manner, that so the temperate heat may touch the matter above and beneath, and where ever it be, more aptly and fitly: whereupon Aristotle says, in the light of lights, that Mercury is to be concocted in a three-fold vessel, and that the vessel must be of most hard Glass, or (which is better) of Earth possessing the nature of Glass.
The matter of the stone thus ended, you shall know the certain manner of working, by what manner and regiment, the stone is often changed in decoction into diverse colors. Whereupon one says, So many colors, so many names. According to the diverse colors appearing in the work, the names likewise were varied by the Philosophers: whereon, in the first operation of our stone, it is called putrifaction, and our stone is made black: whereof one says, When you find it black, know that in that blackness whiteness is hidden, and you must extract the same from his most subtle blackness.
But after putrifaction it waxes red, not with a true redness, of which one says: It is often red, and often of a citrine color, it often melts, and is often coagulated, before true whiteness. And it dissolves itself, it coagulates itself, it putrifies itself, it colors itself, it mortifies itself, it quickens itself it makes itself black, it makes itself white, it makes itself red. It is also green: whereon another says, Concoct it, till it appears green unto you, and that is the soul. And another, Know, that in that: green his soul bears dominion. There appears also before whiteness the peacocks color, whereon one says thus, Know you that all the colors in the world, or that may be imagined, appear before whiteness, and afterward true whiteness follows.
Whereof one says: When it has been decocted pure and clean, that it shines like the eyes of fishes, then are we to expect his utility, and by that time the stone is congealed round, And another says: When you shall find whiteness atop in the glass, be assured that in that whiteness, redness is hidden: and this you must extract: but concoct it while it becomes all red: for between true whiteness and true redness, there is a certain ash-color: of which it is said, After whiteness, you cannot err, for increasing the fire, you shall come to an ash-color: of which another says: Do not set light by the ashes, for God shall give it to you molten: and then at the last the King is invested with a red crown the by will of God.
I have largely accomplished my promise of that great mastery, for making the most excellent Elixir, red and white. For conclusion, we are to treat of the manner of projection, which is the accomplishment of the work, the desired and expected joy.
The red Elixir turns into a citrine color infinitely, and changes all metals into pure gold. And the white Elixir does infinitely whiten, and brings every metal to perfect whiteness. But we know that one metal is farther off from perfection then another, and one more near then another.
And although every metal may by Elixir be reduced to perfection, nevertheless the nearest are more easily, speedily, and perfectly reduced, then those which are far distant, And when we meet with a metal that is near to perfection, we are thereby excused from many that are far off. And as for the metals which of them be near, and which far off, which of them I say be nearest to perfection, if you are wise and discrete, you shall find to be plainly and truly set out in my Chapters.
And without doubt, he that is so quick sighted in this my Mirror, that by his own industry he can find out the true matter, he does full well know upon what body the medicine is to be projected to bring it to perfection. For the forerunners of this Art, who have found it out by their philosophy, do point out with their finger the direct and plain way, when they say: Nature, contains nature: Nature overcomes nature: and Nature meeting with her nature, exceedingly rejoices, and is changed into other natures, And in another place, Every like rejoices in his like: for likeness is said to be the cause of friendship, whereof many Philosophers have left a notable secret, Know you that the sour does quickly enter into his body, which may by no means be joined to another body, And in another place, The soul does quickly enter into his own body, which if you go about to join with another body, you shall loose your labor: for the nearness itself is more clear.
And because corporeal things in this regiment are made incorporeal, and contrariwise things incorporeal corporeal, and in the shutting up of the work, the whole body is made a spiritual fixed thing: and because also that spiritual Elixir evidently, whether white or red, is so greatly prepared and decocted beyond his nature, it is no marvel that it cannot be mixed with a body, on which it is projected, being only melted. It is also a hard matter to Project it on a thousand thousand and more, and incontinently to penetrate and transmute them.
I will therefore now deliver unto you a great and hidden secret. one part is to be mixed with a thousand of the next body, and let: all this be surely put into a fit vessel, and set it in a furnace of fixation, first with a lent fire, and afterwards increasing the fire for three days, till they be inseparably joined together, and this is a work of three days: then again and finally every part hereof by itself, must be projected upon another thousand parts of any near body: and this is a work of one day, Or one hour, or a moment, for which our wonderful God is eternally to be praised.
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