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Philalethes (or Philaletha), Eirenaeus (ca. 1660)

Philalethes (or Philaletha), Eirenaeus (ca. 1660)

The life of this alchemist is wrapped in mystery although a considerable mass of writing stands to his credit. The name, a pseudonym, is similar to the one used by Thomas Vaughan, who wrote as Eugenius Philalethes ). Whoever Eirenaeus Philalethes was, however, he was not Vaughan. Others have striven to identify him with George Starkey, the doctor and author of Liquor Alchahest, but Starkey died of the plague in London in 1665, and it is known that Eirenaeus was living for some years after that date.

Philalethes appears to have been on intimate terms with Robert Boyle and, although this points to his having spent a considerable time in England, it is certain that he emigrated to America. Starkey was born in the Bermudas, and practiced his medical crafts in the English settlements in America, where, according to his contemporary biographers, he met Eirenaeus Philalethes. This meeting may have given rise to the identification of Starkey as Philalethes, while it is probably Starkey to whom Philalethes referred when, in a preface to one of his books, he told of certain of his writings falling "into the hands of one who, I conceive, will never return them," for in 1654 Starkey issued a volume with the title, The Marrow of Alchemy by Eirenaeus Philoponus Philalethes.

It is to prefaces by Philalethes that we must chiefly look for any information about him. In the thirteenth chapter of his Introitus Apertus ad Occlusum Regis Palatium (Amsterdam, 1667) he also made a few autobiographical statements which illuminate his character and career.

"For we are like Cain, driven from the pleasant society we formerly had," he wrote, which suggests that he was persecuted. Elsewhere he heaped scorn on most of the hermetic philosophers of his day. Elsewhere, again, he criticized the popular worship of money. "I disdain, loathe, and detest the idolizing of silver and gold, by which the pomps and vanities of the world are celebrated. Ah! filthy, evil, ah! vain nothingness."

In his preface to Ripley Revived (London, 1678), he gave some account of those who wrote on alchemy to whom he felt himself chiefly indebted. "For my own part, I have cause to honour Bernard Trévisan, who is very ingenious, especially in the letter to Thomas of Boulogne, when I seriously confess I received the main light in the hidden secret. I do not remember that ever I learnt anything from Raymond Lully. I know of none like Ripley, though Flamel be eminent."

Lenglet du Fresnoy, in his Histoire de la Philosophie Hermétique (1742), referred to numerous unpublished manuscripts by Eirenaeus Philalethes, but nothing is known about these today.

Sources:

Philalethes, Eirenaeus. Enarratio methodica trium Gebri medici-narum. N.p., 1678.

. Introitus apertus ad occlusum Regis Palatium. N.p., 1667.

. The Marrow of Alchemy. N.p., 1654.

. Ripley Reviv'd; or an Exposition upon Sir George Ripley's Hermetico-Poetical Works. 5 vols. London: T. Ratcliff and N. Thompson, 1677-78.

. Tractatus tres: (i) Metallorum Metamorphosis; (ii) Brevis Manuductio ad Rubinum Coelestem; (iii) Fons Chymicae Veritatis. N.p., 1678; 1694.

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Butler, Josephine Elizabeth

Butler, Josephine Elizabeth (1828–1907). Christian social reformer. She was initially committed to the improvement of educational opportunities and facilities for women, but she became equally concerned with the desperate plight of women made destitute in various ways. She is recognized in the Anglican calendar of Lesser Commemorations on 30 Dec., as ‘Social Reformer, Wife, and Mother’.

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