Suchten (or Zuchta), Alexander

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(b. Tczew [?], Poland, ca. 1520; d.Bavaria, 1590 [?])

chemistry, medicine.

Suchten’s father, George Suchten, was an assessor for the Gdańsk town court; his mother was Eufemia Schultze. The Suchtens were an important family, possessing houses in Gdańsk and an estate near Tczew, where Alexander was probably born. An uncle, Christopher Suchten, was a secretary to King Sigismund I Jagiello: a grandfather and another uncle had been mayors of Gdańsk. In 1521–1522 an “Alexius Zuchta de Gedano alias etiam Suchten, dictus Kaszuba Polonus” lectured at the University of Cracow, where he held the post of Extraneus de Facultate. This academic was certainly a cousin of Alexander Suchten, who pursued his own studies in the years 1535–1539 in Elblag.

Suchten’s fortunes were greatly influenced by his maternal uncle, Alexander Schultze (or, in Latin, Sculteti), a canon of Frombork and a friend of Copernicus, who resigned his canonry, with consent from Rome, in favor of his nephew. Since (according to a decree of the bishop of Warmia, Joannes Dantiscus) the higher clerical positions could be filled only by those who had studied at a foreign university for three years and had taken a doctorate, Suchten went to Louvain, where he studied medicine, and then to Rome, Ferrara, Bologna, and Padua. In Padua he received the doctorate with a dissertation entitled “Galeni placita.” During this time, Suchten’s uncle, a follower of Heinrich Bullinger, was accused of heresy and his estate was confiscated. Suchten became involved in his uncle’s trial and in 1545 was deprived not only of his canonicate but also of his paternal inheritance. He then went to Königsberg and was poet and physician at the court of Duke Albrecht of Prussia.

In 1549 Suchten went to the Rhineland, where he was both physician and librarian to the elector of the Palatinate, Ottheinrich, a noted bibliophile and collector of alchemical books. While there Suchten became acquainted with the treatises of Paracelsus. He also became a friend of Michael Schütz, known as Toxites, who shared Suchten’s interest in poetry, medicine, and alchemy. In 1554 he returned to Poland and was named physician to Sigismund II Augustus. Despite his influential position, he was unable to recover his property.

About 1564 Suchten wrote his two treatises De tribus facultatibus and Decem et octo propositiones, which created a storm of protest in the medical world. In them, Suchten stated that doctors of medicine who had obtained degrees from the universities of Bologna, Padua, Ferrara, Paris, Louvain, and Wittenberg were nothing but common frauds, and himself endorsed the medical views of Paracelsus. It is not known whether these tracts were manuscripts or whether they were also printed, since they survive only in later editions. At any rate, they were severely criticized by a number of famous physicians, including Konrad Gesner, Thomas Erastus, Crato von Krafftheim, Lukas Steglin, and Achilles Gasser, whose indignation must have come to the attention of Sigismund II, since Suchten was dismissed from his post.

Suchten went for a short time to Königsberg, as physician to Duke Albrecht, then to the court of the German magnate Johann von Seebach in Bavaria. In 1570 he was in Strasbourg, where he published his Liber unus de secretis antimonii. During his stay in the Palatinate, Suchten married; he eventually settled somewhere in Bavaria.

Suchten was a distinguished Paracelsian, who dedicated himself to attacking deceit and charlatanism in medicine. He also wrote on the history of chemistry, perhaps the first scholar to do so, and demonstrated, with the aid of scales, that the transmutation of metals into gold is impossible, so that all claims for “successful” transmutations must be fraudulent. He had a considerable reputation as a Latin poet, and his Dialogus seems to be autobiographical. A number of his manuscripts were published only after his death.


I. Original Works. A complete bibliography of Suchten’s published works is in W. Haberling (see below). His works include Liber unus de secretis antimonii (Strasbourg, 1570), with English trans. as Alex. Van Suchten, of the Secrets of Anitmony (London, 1670); Clavis alchimiae (Mumpelgardt, 1604); Dialogus de hydrope (Mïmpelgardt, 1604); Concordantia chimica (Mulhouse, 1606); Colloquia chemica (Mulhouse, 1606); De tribus facultatibus explicatio tincturae Theophrasti Paracelsi, de vera medicina in Benedictus Figulus’s Pandora (Strasbourg, 1608) and Opera omnia, U. von Dagitza, ed. (Hamburg, 1680).“De lapide philosophorum,” a verse in Latin against the possibility of the transmutation of metals into gold, is in Michael Toxites’ Raymundi lullii . . . . vade mecum (Basel, 1572). Suchten’s greatest poetical work, on the mythical Polish princess Wanda, is in his Vandalus (Königsberg, 1547).

II. Secondary Literature. See Wilhelm Haberling, “Alexander von Suchten . . .,” in Zeitschrift des Westpreussischen Geschichtsvereins, 69 (1926), 177–230, with bibliography; Włodzimierz Hubicki, “Doktor Aleksander Zuchta. Zapomniany polski chemik, lekarz i poeta XVI wieku,” in Studia i materialy z dziejów nauki polskiej, 1 (1953), 102–120; “Alexander von Suchten,” in Sudhoffs Archiv für Geschichte der Medizin un der Naturwissenschafter, 44 (1960), 54–63; and “Chemistry and Alchemy in Sixteenth Century Cracow,” in Endeavour, 17 (1958), 204–207. Earlier literature is cited by John Ferguson in Bibliotheca chemica, II (Glasgow, 1906), 417.

WŁodzimierz Hubicki