Principe, Lawrence M. 1962-
Principe, Lawrence M. 1962-
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, professor of humanities.
Templeton Foundation award for courses dealing with science and religion, 1998; Maryland Professor of the Year, Carnegie Foundation, 1999; Johns Hopkins awards including Distinguished Faculty Award, Excellence in Teaching Award, and George Owen Teaching Award; first Francis Bacon Prize, California Institute of Technology, 2004.
The Triumphal Chariot Reexamined: A Study and Chemical Evaluation of Basil Valentine's "Triumphal Chariot of Antimony," 1983.
(Editor, with Michael Hunter and Antonio Clericuzio) The Correspondence of Robert Boyle, 1636-1691, Pickering & Chatto (Brookfield, VT), 2001.
History of Science, eighteen cassettes and three course guides, Teaching Co. (Chantilly, VA), 2002.
(With William R. Newman) Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2002.
(With Lloyd DeWitt) Transmutations—Alchemy in Art: Selected Works from the Eddleman and Fisher Collections at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia, PA), 2002.
Science and Religion, six CDs and one course guide, Teaching Co. (Chantilly, VA), 2006.
(Editor) Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry, Science History Publications/USA (Sagamore Beach, MA), 2007.
Contributor to works by others, including Instruments and Experimentation in the History of Chemistry, edited by Frederic L. Holmes and Trevor Levere, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000; Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001; and Newton and Newtonianism: New Studies, edited by James E. Force and Sarah Hutton, Kluwer (Dordrecht, The Netherlands), 2004. Contributor to journals, including Early Science and Medicine, Journal of the History of Ideas, and Isis.
Lawrence M. Principe's fascination with the history of alchemy was enhanced when he learned that Robert Boyle (1627-91), regarded as the father of modern chemistry, sought the "Philosopher's Stone," the elixir believed by Boyle and other seventeenth-century alchemists to have the power to turn base metals into gold. Boyle and his contemporaries, including Isaac Newton, were modern scientists in their time, embracing objectivity, but most historians have been unaware of their continuing experimentation with alchemy. Principe's interest in alchemy continued at Indiana University, where he completed a Ph.D. in organic chemistry; while there, he was also fascinated with the history of science. Principe earned a second Ph.D. in that subject at Johns Hopkins University, where he then became a professor.
Principe studied Boyle's papers with the eye of a man who was already familiar with the subject of alchemy, one that other historians had dismissed as occultism not worthy of study. Principe felt otherwise, and wrote The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest: Including Boyle's "Lost" Dialogue on the Transmutation of Metals. Dale Keiger noted in the Johns Hopkins Magazine: "The importance to Boyle of alchemy became ever more apparent as Principe combed through the archive. One of the principal achievements of The Aspiring Adept is Principe's reconstruction of Boyle's Dialogue on the Transmutation of Metals, a fictional debate on the feasibility of transmuting one of the base metals—lead, tin, copper, iron, or mercury—into gold. Principe took twenty-three fragments, which were first and second drafts and assembled what he believes to be much of the original text." As Keiger noted, the debate is among members of a fictional society that resembles the Royal Society of London, of which Boyle was a founding member. The debate among believers and nonbelievers ends with the conclusion that transmutation is a possibility.
Principe projects that one of the reasons that historians and biographers had not previously documented Boyle's alchemic pursuits is that his archives were never catalogued. Many did not understand the terms and so could not document his work. Nineteenth-century writers also felt that what they considered to be magic or the occult had no place in the history of science. That attitude prevailed into the next century, but Principe does not agree with it. As Keiger wrote, Principe feels that alchemy as it was practiced during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was "as scientific as any other pursuit of the natural philosophy of the day. There was no division between chemistry and alchemy. Modern chemistry has proved that lead cannot be transmuted into gold, but alchemists didn't know that, and their pursuit of the Philosopher's Stone was grounded in the knowledge of their time. ‘Alchemy is not irrational,’ says Principe. ‘Nor is it haphazard. It was not shot-in-the-dark experimentation. It has a sound theoretical foundation.’ Alchemists conducted experiments and recorded results; they traded notes and texts and theories; they sought knowledge through systematic inquiry."
American Scientist contributor Mordechai Feingold wrote: "But Principe goes further than just situating Boyle firmly within an active and continuous alchemical tradition. Deep spirituality, he argues, pervaded Boyle's alchemical studies…. Principe points out that Boyle's research was imbued with both private and public religious concerns, as he strove to mobilize both rational arguments and supernatural aspects of alchemy in his devotional practices as well as in his public efforts in the defense of Christianity." Feingold concluded by writing that The Aspiring Adept is "a major contribution" to Boyle studies.
Principe and William R. Newman are the authors of Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry. George Starkey, who wrote under the pseudonym Eirenaeus Philalethes for his alchemical tracts, is the main focus of this volume, and the authors emphasize his laboratory work rather than provide a complete overview of his life and career. William E. Burns, who reviewed the book in Albion, noted that Principe and Newman had both previously written about the subject. Burns felt that this volume "does not disappoint." Burns noted: "They draw on Boyle's manuscripts to argue that Starkey was Boyle's most important chemical teacher and the intellectual source of much of his chemistry, but that Boyle concealed his debt to Starkey and even plagiarized from him and stole his chemical ‘secrets.’ The authors paint a much less romantic picture of the ‘Hartlib circle,’ of which both Boyle and Starkey were members, than often appears in studies of mid-seventeenth century English science."
Principe is the editor of Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry, a collection of twenty-two papers presented at a July, 2006, conference held by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Topics range from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, and individual contributions focus on such issues as textual exegesis, symbolism, transmutation and the danger of fraud, theology, alchemy and fine art, archeology, and gender, as well as writings about such figures as Newton, Libavius, Boyle, Kircher, Boerhaave, Paracelsus, Stahl, and Khunrath.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Albion, spring, 2004, William E. Burns, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry, p. 112.
American Scientist, March 1, 1999, Mordechai Feingold, review of The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest: Including Boyle's "Lost" Dialogue on the Transmutation of Metals, p. 184.
AScribe Science News Service, June 21, 2004, "Johns Hopkins Professor Wins First Francis Bacon Award; Prize Includes $20K Grant, Visiting Professorship at Caltech."
Chemical Heritage, fall, 2002, review of Transmutations—Alchemy in Art: Selected Works from the Eddleman and Fisher Collections at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, p. 33; summer, 2004, Daniel Stolzenberg, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 45.
Choice, December, 1998, review of The Aspiring Adept, p. 709; February, 2008, E.R. Webster, review of Chymists and Chymistry: Studies in the History of Alchemy and Early Modern Chemistry, p. 997.
Eighteenth-Century Studies, Jessica Hutchings, winter, 2006, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 258.
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, spring, 2004, Susan M. Groppi, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 404.
History of Science, September, 2003, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 360; March, 2006, review of Alchemical Laboratory Notebooks and Correspondence, p. 120.
Isis, December, 1999, review of The Aspiring Adept, p. 772; September, 2003, Martin Kemp, review of Transmutations—Alchemy in Art, p. 527.
Journal of Chemical Education, October, 1999, Jeffrey Kovac, review of The Aspiring Adept, p. 1343; June, 2003, Jeffrey Kovac, review of Transmutations—Alchemy in Art, p. 618.
Journal of Modern History, June, 2005, Allen G. Debus, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 422.
Journal of the History of Philosophy, January, 2004, Rose-Mary Sargent, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 104.
Nature, August 13, 1998, D.M. Knight, review of The Aspiring Adept, p. 633; February 20, 2003, review of Transmutations—Alchemy in Art, p. 790 September 27, 2007, Philip Ball, review of Chymists and Chymistry, p. 788.
Renaissance Quarterly, spring, 2004, Pamela O. Long, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 308.
SciTech Book News, December, 2007, review of Chymists and Chymistry.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, December, 2004, Lauren Kassell, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire, p. 845.
William and Mary Quarterly, October, 2003, Walter W. Woodward, review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire.
Johns Hopkins Magazine Online,http://www.jhu.edu/~jhumag/ (October 20, 2008), Dale Keiger, "All That Glitters….
Johns Hopkins University, Program in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology Web site,http://web.jhu.edu/hsmt/ (February, 1999), faculty profile.
Teaching Company Web site,http://www.teach12.com/ (April 18, 2008), author profile.