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Sendivogius (SEdzimir or Sedzi?oj), Michael


(b. Skorsko or Lukawica, Poland, 2 February 1566; d. Cravar, Silesia, June [?] 1636)


Sendivogius’ parents, Jacob Sędzimir and Catherine Pielsz Rogowska, were both of noble families and had a small estate near Nowy Sacz, in the Cracow district. After studying in Italy, Sendivogius entered the University of Leipzig in 1590, moving a year later to the University of Vienna. In 1593 he entered the service of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague as a courier, and in 1594 he also became courier and later secretary to the Polish king Sigismund III this dual service was made possible by the close friendship of the two rulers and their common enmity to Turkey. Also in 1594 Sendivogius married Veronica Stieber, a wealthy widow. He soon came to Rudolf’s attention and participated in his alchemical experiments, becoming his favorite and trusted friend. In Cracow and Prague, and on his many official missions. Sendivogius met prominent political figures and scientists; his friends included the alchemists Joachim Tancke, Oswald Croll, J. Orthel, J. Kapr von Kaprstein, V. Lavinius, R. Egli, Martin Ruland, and Michael Maier.

Sendivogius’ name appears in the rolls of the University of Altdorf for 1595-probably as an imperial official, rather than as a student. As mentioned by his biographer Carolides a Carlsperga (1598), he may also have visited the universities of Rostock, Ingolstadt, and Cambridge. In 1597 Sendivogius bought the Fumberg estate, near Prague, from the widow of the English alchemist Edward Kelley. Around this time, and under the influence of the Polish master of heraldry Bartlomiej Paprocki, he changed his family name to the nobler sounding Sedziwoáj (latinized as Sendivogius) and began to sign his name Michael Sendivogius Liberbaro de Skorsko et Lukawica. In 1599 he was accused before the municipal court of Prague of being responsible for the death of a friend and fellow alchemist, a rich Bohemian merchant named Louis Koralek, and was sentenced to prison. He was released as a result of the diplomatic intervention of Sigismund III.

At this time Sendivogius’ wife and two of their four children died. Offended by the noninterference of Rudolf in the Koralek affair and by his failure to defend him before the arrest, Sendivogius sold his estate at Fumberg and, with his surviving children, Veronica and Christopher, returned to Poland, In 1602 he was recalled to Prague and was appointed imperial privy councillor. In 1605, while on a diplomatic mission to France, Sendivogius was lured to the court of Duke Frederick of Württemberg at Stuttgart. Having claimed inDelapide philosophorum (1604) to be the “true possessor” of the “mystery of the philosophical stone,” he was soon imprisoned. Sigismund III Rudolf II ,and several German princes intervened on his behalf; alarmed by this, Frederick arranged for Sendivogius to escape and laid the blame on his court alchemist, Heinrich Mühlenfells. Put to torture, Mühlenfells pleaded guilty and was condemned to the gallows.

In 1607 Sendivogius visited Cologne, where he published Dialougus mercurii..., a kind of satire on alchemy. On his return to Poland he became courtier to Queen Constantia, the second wife of Sigismund III . With crown marshall Mikolaj Wolski he established many smithies and iron and brass foundries in Krzepice, which later became a leading industrial center. His collaboration with Wolski was undoubtedly lucrative, for Sendivogius soon became the owner of several houses in Cracow. In 1615–1616 he visited Johannes Hartmann’s laboratory in Marburg. Around 1619 Sendivogius transferred his allegiance to Emperor Ferdinand II , for whom he established lead foundries in Silesia. In 1626 he was appointed privy councillor and in 1631, as compensation for longunpaid salaries, he received the estates of Cravar and Kounty in Crnow county, Moravia. In ruinous condition following the Thirty Years War, the estates proved to be the source of great expense.

Mysterious and intriguing, Sendivogius was undoubtedly a political double agent. His adventures with the Scottish alchemist Alexander Seton in Saxony seem to be a literary fiction, created years after his death; there is no mention of them in the materials of the Landesarchiv in Dresden. Sendivogius was considered by contemporary and succeeding generations of alchemists to be the true possessor of the “great mystery” and a member of the Rosicrucians. He was greatly admired and was frequently cited in seventeenth- and eighteenth century alchemical treatises.

His alchemical writings had no influence on the development of chemistry, but his treatise De lapide philosophorum is of great value for the history of science. Besides recipes for the philosophers’ stone, it contains interesting notes concerning the components of air. Sendivogius believed that the air contained a hidden life-giving and fire-supporting agent the “invisible niter” or “philosophical saltpeter” — the food of life without which nothing could live or grown. This “invisible niter” was born in the rays of the sun and moon, from which it flowed down to the earth in rain or dew. During rainstorms the “niter” passed from the air into the earth, combining with its constituents to form “saltpeter,” This process, Sendivogius maintained, occurred continuously and in plain view, although no one noticed or understood it. This argument contains the first idea of the existence of oxygen.

An exponent of the then fashionable Hermetic philosophy, Sendivogius was greatly influenced by Paracelsus and Alexander von Suchten. The ignis naturae or balsam,um vitae of Paracelsus and the spiritus vitae of Suchten were redefined by Sendivogius as “philosophical niter” —with the important added explanation of its role in nature. His views on the fire-supporting and life-giving “saltpeter” apparently were derived from the current belief that fires in the salt mines at Wieliczka, near Cracow, were caused by the abundance of saltpeter in the air.

Several seventeenth-century alchemists, including Bathurst and Mayow, investigated Sendivogus’ recipes for the philosophers’ stone and as a first step searched for the “philosophical niter” in the air.


I. Original Works. Sendivogius’ main writings are De lapide philosophorum tractatus duodecim e naturae fonte et manuali experientia depromti (n.p., 1604), since Jean Beguin’s ed. (Paris, 1608) also known as Cosmopolitani novum lumen chymicum; Dialogus mercurii, alchimistae et naturae (Cologne, 1607): and Tractatus de sulphure altero naturae principio (Cologne, 1616). All three treatises are known in over eighty eds. and have been translated into German, English, French, Russian, and Polish. Sendivogius’ Processus super centrum universi seu sal centrale was edited by Johann Becher in his Chymischer Glückshafen (Frankfurt, 1682), 231–240.

The fifty-five letters allegedly by Sendivogius, first published by J. Manget in Bibliotheca chemica curiosa, II (Geneva, 1702), 493 ff. and also published in German, were written in the second half of the seventeenth century, long after his death.

Bibliographies of Sendivogius’ works are in the following (listed chronologically); John Ferguson, Bibliotheca chemica, II (Glasgow, 1906), 364–370; C. Zibrt, Bibliographie čske historia, III (Prague, 1906), 523–526; K. Estreicher, Bibliografia polska, XXVII (Cracow, 1929), 332–342: and R. Bugaj. Michal Sedziwój (Wroclaw—Warsaw—Cracow, 1968), 280–304.

II. Secondary Literature. Early biographies of Sendivogius include Georgius Carolides a Carlsperga, Praecepta institutionis (Prague, 1598); Bartlomiej Paprocki, Jina czastka, nove kratochwile (Prague, 1598); and J. Chorinus, Illustris foeminae D. Dn. Veronicae Stiberiae (Prague, 1604). Later Dufresnoy, Histoire de la philosophie hermétique, 1 (The Hague, 1742), 332–333; A. Batowski, “List Poliarka Micigna,” in Rozmaitości — Gazeta Lwowska, 19 (1958), 153–156; W. Szymanowski, “Michal Sldziwój,” in Tygodnik ilustrowany, 5 (1862), 181–218; M. Wiszniewski, Bakona metoda tlumacznia natury (Warsaw, 1876), 130–136; J. Brincken, “O zyciu i pismach Michala Sldziwoja.” in Biblioteka Warszawska, 2 (1846), 479–506; J. Svatek, Culturhistorische Bilder aus Böhmen (Vienna, 1879), 78–84; J. Read, Humour and Humanism in Chemistry (London, 1947), 52–65; and R. Bugaj, W poszukiwaniu kamienia filozoficzego (Warsaw, 1957). These works, however, have little value in terms of history or the history of science.

Archival materials concerning the life of Sendivogius are presented in the following (cited chronologically): B. Peška, “Praski meštan a polsky alchymista,” in Svêtozor. VI (1972), 471–495; C. R. Elvert, “Der Alchemist Sendivogius,” in Notizenblatt der k. und k. Mährisch-schlesischen Gesellschaft zur Beförderung des Ackerbaues, Hist.-stat. Kl., 12 (1883), 20–22; J. Zukal, “Alchymista Michael Sendivoj,” Vestnik matice opavske, 3 (1909), no. 17; O. Zachar, Z dejin alchymie v zemich ceskych (Kladno, 1910); W. Hubicki, “Michael Sendivogius’s Theory, Its Origin and Significance in the History of Chemistry,” in Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on the History of Science, Ithaca, 1962 (Paris, 1964). II , 829–833; “The True Life of Michael Sendivogius,” in Actes du XI Congrès international d’histoire des sciences, IV (Warsaw, 1965), 31–35; and “Zapomniana teoria,” in Problemy, 22 (1966), 98–103; and Ossolineum PAN, IV (Wroclaw — warsaw — Cracow, 1968), 41–45.

WŁodzimierz Hubicki

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