Suchten, Alexander von
SUCHTEN, ALEXANDER VON
(b. Gdansk, Poland, c. 1520; d. Linz/Upper Austria, November 1575),
medicine, iatrochemistry. For the original article on Suchten see DSB, vol. 13.
Research undertaken after the original DSB article in 1976 resulted in some new information and insights about Suchten with regard to his life, his literary achievements, and international reception. Some texts underwent additional editing, and a revised list of publications was assembled. The studies reveal a Paracelsian specialist author and an efficient neo-Latin poet.
Life This patrician’s son from Gdansk attended the Elbing grammar school and, after gaining a canonry in Frauenburg in the Ermland (Warmia) region in 1538, went to the University of Leuven to study medicine in 1540 (Immatrikulation: 19. 1. 1541). When his uncle, Alexander Sculteti, was condemned for heresy, Suchten became involved in his uncle’s trials and followed a summons to Rome. From then on he was fighting continuous legal battles over his canonrye—Nicolaus Copernicus sided with Suchten—and eventually, at the instigation of Bishop Johannes Dantiscus and Caspar Hanau, lost his position as canon in Frauenburg, as well as his Warmian estates, in 1545. Under the protection of Duke Albrecht of Prussia (1490–1568), Suchten stayed in Königsberg, but whether this was as “physician at the court” (DSB, vol. 13, p. 141), remains rather doubtful. At any rate, he established closer relations with Georgius Sabinus and Felix König (Polyphemus), both leading members of the university founded in Königsberg in 1544.
From 1549 to around 1553 Suchten was serving the Count Palatinate (and later Elector) Ottheinrich (1502–1559) in Weinheim-Bergstrasse and Heidelberg. His activities related closely to Ottheinrich’s Kunstbücher(Books of the art, i.e., alchemical books) and resulted in his own “Paracelsian turn”: Suchten discovered “many flaws in Galenic medicine,” went into “Theophrastus’s [i.e., Paracelsus's] teachings,” and, according to Michael Toxites (1570), devoted himself to iatrochemical laboratory practice. The suggestion that, during his stay in the Electoral Palatinate, Suchten got married and perhaps settled down in Bavaria (DSB, vol. 13, p. 141) lacks any evidentiary foundation.
By 1554 Suchten was once again in Poland in order to obtain from Krakow’s dean, Stanislaus von Borck, a genealogy written by Suchten’s uncle for Duke Albrecht, and to convey the work to the duke. Supposedly (according to Trevor-Roper, 1990, p. 83) Suchten filled the position of “chief physician” (“archiater”) to Sigismundus II Augustus of Poland (1520–1572) in 1554. However, the only adequate evidence relates to the fact that Suchten had agreed to treat Sigismund II for one year in Vilnius, in the duchy of Lithuania (the stay in Vilnius is documented for the year 1561, but its actual length is unknown). For Suchten it was a period marked by abortive attempts to regain his confiscated estates as well as professional conflicts with the king’s physicians. Suchten left in order to complete his medical studies in Italy.
After his return from Italy to Königsberg in March of 1563, Suchten pushed to enter royal service. Duke Albrecht’s efforts to obtain him a post as personal physician at Sigismundus II Augustus’s court were, however, unsuccessful; also incorrect is the suggestion that Suchten acted as royal Polish court physician between 1557 and 1563 (according to Szydlo, 1994, p. 24). It is just as unlikely that Suchten could have been “physician to Duke Albrecht” (DSB, vol. 13, p. 141) or, respectively, “the duke’s personal physician” (thus, for instance, Trunz, 1932/1995, p. 99). Actually, the negotiations to appoint Suchten as personal physician to Duke Albrecht, in which Paulus Scalichius (Paul Skalich) participated, came to nothing (see Haberling, 1929), and due to inheritance quarrels, Suchten set out from Königsberg in 1564 for Gdansk, where he remained until 1567.
Suchten called on the university physician Michael Barth in Leipzig before 1569, and eventually went to Strasbourg before 1570, collaborating with the leading Paracelsian, Michael Toxites. Together with Toxites, he went to Speyer on the occasion of the Reichstag in 1570. Here on the Upper Rhine he handed over to Toxites his work De secretis antimonii, which Toxites sent to press that same year. Probably in this year Suchten met with the wealthy merchant Bartholomäus Schobinger to discuss alchemical projects. Following their “conversation” in 1575, Schobinger sent a letter rejecting Suchten’s offer to “change the more imperfect metals to a superior one [i.e., gold]” at Schobinger’s expense (Schobinger, Letter to Suchten, probably 1576, in Leiden University Library, Cod. Voss. chem. F. 2, leaf 2r-v). From 1574 Suchten made a living as a Landschaftsarzt in Linz/Upper Austria, where he died in the first week of November 1575 (communication by Oliver Humberg, Elberfeld, Germany, to Joachim Telle, April 2006, based on the estate dossier “Suchten” in Linz at the Oberösterreichische Landesarchiv).
Among Suchten’s close circle of friends were well-known humanists Guilielmus Gnapheus and Georg Sabinus, in addition to the poet Eustachius von Knobelsdor; he also crossed paths with the Paracelsian physician Christophorus Pithopoeius (d. after 1587) and Jakob Montanus (1529–1600) as well as Toxites and Scalichius. In the seventeenth century there were apparently some details available about a correspondence between Suchten and the lay alchemist Johann Baptista von Seebach (Johann Joachim Becher, Chymischer Glücks-Hafen, Frankfurt, 1682). That Suchten was supposedly staying at Seebach’s court “in Bavaria” (DSB, vol. 13, p. 141), however, is entirely doubtful because no documents or proof of this are known to exist. What has survived are remnants of Suchten’s correspondence with Duke Albrecht, with Konrad Gessner (Zurich, 8 February 1564, concerning Suchten’s Propositiones), and with Bartholomäus Schobinger (St. Gallen, April 1576 [probably 1657]), concerning alchemy).
Work Suchten’s literary activity began with works of poetry in his adolescence (in Prima Aelbigensis scholae foetura, edited by Gulielmus Gnaphaeus, Gdansk, 1541). Subsequently Suchten wrote an Epistola Lucretiae ad Euri-alum (Königsberg, 1546), shaped the legend of the Polish queen Wanda and the German prince Rüdiger into elegiac distichs (Vandalus, Königsberg, 1547), and published an elegy addressed to G. Sabinus titled De morte Petri Bembi(in Vandalus, Königsberg, 1547; also in G. Sabinus, Poëmata, Leipzig, 1581, pp. 391–393). Later in his life he also showed an interest in the literary efforts of Prussian poetic humanists (two epigrams, printed in a religious apology written by his teacher, G. Gnapheus, titled Antilogia, 1550).
In other works Suchten emerged as a proponent of religious teachings (De visione Dei [poetry], in P. Scalichius, Apologia, without place or date given ). He enriched the Protestant heterodox body of writing (Ad dialogum de morte, to Valentin Weigel, in De christianismo, Halle, 1614) and participated in the struggle against Aristotelian-Galenic orthodox science and theology (De tribus facultatibus, in Pandora, edited by Benedictus Figulus, Strasbourg, 1608).
Suchten caused a stir among leading physicians, particularly with his Propositiones (written in 1561 at the latest; edited by Figulus, in Pandora, 1608). This programmatic tract on the reformation of natural history prompted immediate and sharp condemnation by Lucas Stenglin and Achilles Pirmin Gasser in a censura, as well as by Konrad Gessner and Johann Crato von Kraftheim; with this work Suchten emerged as an advocate of a magiabased on theologia, medicina, and astronomia. Opponents regarded Suchten’s texts as the work of an Arian (Gessner, 1561). As late as 1576 Crato claimed that Suchten had succumbed to “the heresy of the Arians and Samosatenians” and had—probably “seduced” by an “inner revelation”—placed “Christ between God and men” (Gilly, 1977, p. 119).
Initially Suchten was called poeta. After prolonged vacillation, however, by the 1550s Suchten the physician had eventually triumphed over Suchten the poet. Nevertheless, in some of his alchemo-medical writings Suchten continued to adhere to humanist standards of poetic art, especially in the didactic poem De vera medicina(addressed to Karl Rauhenberger, in Paracelsus’s Medici libelli, edited by Balthasar Flöter, Cologne, 1567), in further Elegien (in De secretis antimonii, Strasbourg, 1570), and in a frequently printed epigram titled De lapide philosophorum (addressed to Guilhelmus Blancus, in Raimundus Lullus’s Libelli chemici, edited by M. Toxites, Basel, 1572). The claim that De lapide was directed “against the possibility of the transmutation of metals into gold” (DSB, vol. 13, p. 141) is not correct (see Telle, 2006).
Suchten’s medical Paracelsianism first manifested itself in an elegy (No. 4), Ad Apollinem in catarrho pestilentiali, written during Suchten’s time in Vilnius (c. 1560?; printed by 1570), and eventually more forcefully in the medical Konsilien for curing Duke Albrecht (1563; edited by Haberling, 1929, pp. 198–206). Suchten’s two-part monograph on antimony (Part I: De secretis antimonii, edited by M. Toxites, Strasbourg, 1570 et al.; Part II: Clavis alchemiae [dedicated to J. B. von Seebach] in Zween Tractat vom Antimonio, Mömpelgard, 1604) also in Antimonii mysteria gemina (edited by Johann Thölde, Leipzig, 1604) is a major work of early modern iatro-chemistry.
In the so-called “antynomy war,” raging since the 1560s in the context of general controversies between the Paracelsian and Galenic schools, Suchten was among the most effective advocates of the iatrochemical antimony doctrine, together with Basilius Valentinus, the pseudonymous author of the Triumphwagen Antimonii (Leipzig, 1604). Suchten rejected “belief” and buecherwissen/lectio librorum in natural and medicine in favor of an alchemo-Paracelsian experiential knowledge, and in doing so, his vigorous empiricism based on the five senses and his fierce criticism of authorities sometimes turned even against Paracelsian teachings. The view, however, that Suchten dismissed “the transmutation of metals into gold” as “impossible” (DSB, vol. 13, p. 141; Szydlo, p. 24), has only limited validity in light of his gold-making proposal to Schobinger. Suchten regarded Paracelsus as the rediscoverer of a sapientia prisca (alchemia medica) forgotten since the times of Asculapius, but also as an outstanding theologian. Suchten adhered to a Christian faith pervaded by millenarian elements and took an active interest in the Christian revolt versus the paganism of ancient culture. The notion that certain authorities of the Catholic Church charged Suchten with “heresy” and convicted him (thus, for instance, Gilly, 1977, p. 80), is largely unsubstantiated.
Influence While his non-medical poetry quickly fell into oblivion, Suchten’s alchemico-medical writings enjoyed considerable renown. Their continuing relevance among the early modern res publica alchemica is revealed by a number of reprints; an anthological edition (Chymische Schrifften, edited by Ulrich C. von Dagitza, Hamburg, 1680); translations by Georg Forberger (Latin; Basel, 1575), Bavor RodovskY the Younger (Czech; Leiden, University Library, Cod. Voss. chem. F. 3, sixteenth century), R.B.S.D.P. (French; Paris, Bibliotèque Nationale de France, MS Français Nouvelles Acquisitions 1834, seventeenth century) and Daniel Cable (English; London, 1670); and perhaps even more explicitly by some commentaries (e.g., on the Tract on Antimony II) (English; London, British Library, MS Sloane 3733, leaves 66–87, seventeenth century).
Suchten’s reputation among early modern alchemico-Paracelsians is documented particularly by some pseudo-Suchtenian writings, including a Concordantia chymica (in Cabala chymica, edited by Franz Kieser, Mühlhausen, 1606), a Dialogus Alexandri a Suchten, and an Explicatio tincturae physicorum Theophrasti Paracelsi (in Pandora, edited by Figulus, 1608). His works found a number of well-known editors and commentators (M. Toxites, B. Flöter, Johann Thölde, Joachim Tancke, B. Figulus, and Joachim Morsius), and were used by Johann Rist in the Philosophische Phoenix (Hamburg, 1638), assimilated in the Samuel Hartlib circle (London), and warmly defended by Johann Ehrd von Naxagoras (Alchymia denudata, part 2, Leipzig 1727) as late as the eighteenth century.
A number of pseudo-writings (not noted in the original DSB article) circulated under Suchten’s name. Standard for bibliographical purposes is Haberling, 1929 (see below); some questions regarding authenticity remain unsolved. It should also be noted that, because of his personal acquaintance with Suchten, Michael Toxites knew (in Suchten, De secretis antimonii, ed. Toxites, 1570, pp. 5, 23) that in 1570 Suchten had been planning a tract devoted to antimony titled De administratione. It is probably identical with Suchten's Tract on Antimony II, dedicated to J. B. von Seebach and printed since 1604 under the title of Clavis alchemiae/De secretis antimonii.
WORKS BY SUCHTEN
Liber vnus De secretis ntimoniias ist/Von der grossen heymligkeit des Antimonij die Artzney belangent. Edited by Michael Toxites. Strasbourg: Christian Müllers Erben, 1570.
Clavis alchemiae (addressed to J. B. von Seebach). In Zween Tractat/om Antimonio. Mömpelgard: Jakob Foillet, 1604. Clavis alchemiae also in Antimonii mysteria gemina, edited by Johann Thölde. Leipzig: Valentin am Ende für Jakob Apel, 1604.
Chymische Schrifften. Edited by Ulrich C. von Dagitza. Hamburg, 1680. Includes pseudo-Suchtenian writings.
Bröer, Ralf. “Friedenspolitik durch Verketzerung: Johannes Crato (1519–1586) und die Denunziation der Paracelsisten als Arianer.” Medizinhistorisches Journal 37 (2002): 139–182. Especially on Suchten’s “chymical” religiosity.
Ferguson, John. Bibliotheca Chemica: A Catalogue of the Alchemical, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Books in the Collection of the Late James Young of Kelly and Durris. Vol. 2, pp. 415–417. Glasgow: James Maclehose & Sons, 1906.
Gilly, Carlos. “Zwischen Erfahrung und Spekulation: Theodor Zwinger und die religiöse und kulturelle Krise seiner Zeit.” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde 77 (1977): 57–137. See pp. 75–83, 119.
———. “Un bel trattato ermetico del Paracelsismo: Il ‘De tribus facultatibus’ di Alexander von Suchten.” In Magia, Alchimia, Scienza dal '400 al '700: L’influsso di Ermete Trismegisto. A cura di Carlos Gilly e Cis van Heertum. Florence: Centro Di, 2002.
Haberling, Wilhelm. “Alexander von Suchten, ein Danziger Arzt und Dichter des 16. Jahrhunderts.” Zeitschrift des Westpreußischen Geschichtsvereins 69 (1929): 175–230. Includes a print of medical assessments and a letter to Duke Albrecht; bibliography of works; standard account.
———. “Neues aus dem Leben des Danziger Arztes und Dichters Alexander von Suchten.” [Sudhoff's] Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin 24 (1931): 117–123. Includes a transcription of two epigrams.
Kassell, Lauren. “‘The Food of Angels’: Simon Forman’s Alchemical Medicine.” In Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, edited by William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. On Forman’s reception of Suchten.
———. Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London. Simon Forman: Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. See pp. 173–189 on Forman’s reception of Suchten’s Antimony Tract II.
Kühlmann, Wilhelm, and Joachim Telle, eds. Corpus Paracelsisticum. Vol. 1, Der Frühparacelsismus: Erster Teil. Early Modern Period, vol. 59, nos. 31–33, pp. 544–584. Tübingen: Niemeyer Verlag, 2001. Includes a biography, further readings, and an annotated transcription of two letters by Suchten to Duke Albrecht of Prussia and his preface to De secretis antimonii.
Molitor, Carl. “Alexander von Suchten, ein Arzt und Dichter aus der Zeit des Herzogs Albrecht. “Altpreußische Monatsschrift 19 (1882): 480–488. Includes a transcription of a dedicated poem in handwriting.
Newman, William. “Prophecy and Alchemy: The Origin of Eirenaeus Philalethes.” Ambix 37 (1990): 97–115. See pp. 102–106, 113. Suchten in the work of George Starkey.
———. “The Corpuscular Transmutational Theory of Eirenaeus Philalethes.” In Alchemy and Chemistry in the 16th and 17th Centuries, edited by Piyo Rattansi and Antonio Clericuzio. Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées, vol. 140. Dordrecht and Boston: Kluwer, 1994. See pp. 175–178, on the reception of Suchten by Starkey.
———. Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. See pp. 135–141 passim, on the reception of Suchten by Starkey.
Newman, William, and Lawrence M. Principe. Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. On the reception of Suchten by Starkey and Robert Boyle.
Pagel, Walter. The Smiling Spleen: Paracelsianism in Storm and Stress. Basel: S. Karger, 1984. See pp. 13–17, on Suchten’s “De Tribus Facultatibus.”
Sudhoff, Karl. “Ein Beitrag zur Bibliographie der Paracelsisten im 16. Jahrhundert.” Centralblatt für Bibliothekswesen 10 (1893): 316–326, 385–407. See pp. 391–400; 11 (1894): 169–172. See pp. 171–172.
Szyd o, Zbigniew. Water Which Does Not Wet Hands: The Alchemy of Michael Sendivogius. Warsaw: Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute for the History of Science, 1994. See pp. 24, 30.
Telle, Joachim. “Alexander von Suchten.” In Literaturlexikon, edited by Walther Killy. Vol. 11. Gütersloh and Munich: Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag, 1991.
———. “Johann Arndt: Ein alchemischer Lehrdichter? Bemerkungen zu Alexander von Suchtens ‘De lapide philosophorum’ (1572).” In Strenae nataliciae: Neulateinische Studien. Wilhelm Kühlmann zum 60. Geburtstag, edited by Hermann Wiegand. Heidelberg: Manutius, 2006. Includes transcription of De lapide.
Thorndike, Lynn. A History of Magic and Experimental Science. Vol. 5, pp. 640–642. New York: Macmillan, 1941.
Trevor-Roper, Hugh. “The Court Physician and Paracelsianism.” In Medicine at the Courts of Europe, 1500–1837, edited by Vivian Nutton. London and New York: Routledge, 1990. See pp. 83.
Trunz, Erich. Deutsche Literatur zwischen Späthumanismus und Barock: Acht Studien. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1995. See p. 99.