De Lisle (ca. 1710)
De Lisle (ca. 1710)
De Lisle was a French alchemist. Both Lenglet du Fresnoy, in his Histoire de la Philosophie Hérmetique (ca. 1742), and nineteenth-century alchemist G. Louis Figuier wrote about De Lisle; neither supplied his first name or his date and place of birth. Some believe he was a Provençal.
De Lisle was known to have been active during the first decade of the eighteenth century, so it may be assumed that he was born toward the close of the previous century. He seems at an early age to have entered the service of a scientist who apparently was a pupil of the alchemist Lascaris. This unnamed scientist got into trouble of some sort, probably because of his predilection for the occult. He left Provence and set out for Switzerland, taking with him his young pupil, De Lisle. On the way the youth murdered his patron and employer and took all his alchemistic property, notably some precious transmuting powder. Then, about the year 1708, he returned to his native France, where he soon attracted attention by supposedly changing masses of lead and iron into silver and gold.
Noble and influential people now began to seek his company and his scientific services, and he soon found himself safely and comfortably housed in the castle of La Palud. There he received many visitors and demonstrated his skill before them.
He eventually grew weary of this and began an affair with a Madame Alnys, a married woman. He traveled with her from place to place, and a son was eventually born to the pair. Madame Alnys's husband was still alive, but that did not prevent De Lisle from continuing to elicit patronage and favor from the rich and famous.
For example, in 1710, at the Château de St. Auban, he performed a curious experiment in the presence of a Monsieur St. Maurice, then president of the royal mint. Going into the grounds of the château one evening, De Lisle showed St. Maurice a basket sunk in the ground and had him bring it into the dining hall, where it was opened, revealing some earth of a blackish color. After distilling a yellow liquid from the earth, De Lisle projected this on hot quicksilver and quickly produced three ounces of gold, later also succeeding in concocting a quantity of silver. Some of the gold was sent to Paris to be refined. Three medals were struck from it; one, bearing the inscription Aurum Arte Factum, was placed in the cabinet of the king.
As a result of the incident at St. Auban, De Lisle was invited to visit the court in Paris, but he declined, saying the southern climate in which he lived was necessary to the success of his experiments, since the preparations he worked with were purely vegetable. It is probable that, having been successful in impressing his clientèle so far, he felt it wise to refrain from further endeavors that might prove futile and destroy his reputation.
Nothing is written of De Lisle later than 1760, so presumably he died about that time. His son by Madame Alnys, however, seems to have inherited some of his father's predilections and a fair amount of his skill. Wandering for many years through Italy and Germany, Alnys was reported to have affected transmutations successfully before various petty nobles. In Vienna he attracted the attention of the Duc de Richelieu, then acting as French ambassador to the Viennese court. Richelieu afterward assured the Abbé Lenglet that he not only saw the operation of gold making performed, but did it himself by carrying out instructions given him by the alchemist.
Alnys latter gradually acquired great wealth, but, falling under suspicion, he was imprisoned for a time at Marseilles. He ultimately escaped to Brussels. There he continued, not altogether unsuccessfully, to engage in alchemy.
It was in Brussels that he became acquainted with Percell, the brother of Lenglet du Fresnoy, to whom he is said to have confided some valuable scientific secrets. Eventually the mysterious death of one Grefier, known to have been working in Alnys's laboratory, made the Brussels authorities suspicious about Alnys's character, so he left the town stealthily, never to be heard from again.
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Secret Tradition in Alchemy. London, 1926.