Helvetius, John Friedrich (1625-1709)

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Helvetius, John Friedrich (1625-1709)

A physician of the Hague, Holland, who in 1667 published a work concerning a strange adventure in which he claims to have taken part in a veritable act of metallic transmutation by alchemy. The book was translated into English and published in London in 1670 under the title The Golden Cult Which the World Adores and Desires: In Which is Handled the Most Rare and Incomparable Wonder of Nature, in Transmuting Metals. It is one of the few exact descriptions of such an experiment.

"On the 27th December, 1666, in the afternoon, a stranger, in a plain, rustic dress, came to my house at the Hague. His manner of address was honest, grave authoritative; his stature was low, with a long face and hair black, his chin smooth. He seemed like a native of the north of Scotland, and I guessed he was about 44 years old. After saluting me he requested me most respectfully to pardon his rude intrusion, but that his love of the pyrotechnic art made him visit me. Having read some of my small treatises, particularly that against the sympathetic powder of Sir Kenelm Digby (see Powder of Sympathy ) and observed therein my doubt of the Hermetic mystery, it caused him to request this interview. He asked me if I still thought there was no medicine in Nature which could cure all diseases, unless the principal parts, as the lungs, liver, etc. were perished, or the time of death were come. To which I replied I never met with an adept, or saw such a medicine, though I read of much of it and often wished for it. Then I asked if he was a physician. He said he was a founder of brass, yet from his youth learned many rare things in chemistry, particularly of a friendthe manner to extract out of metals many medicinal arcana by the use of fire.

"After discoursing of experiments in metals, he asked me, would I know the philosophers' stone if I saw it? I answered, I would not, though I read much of it in Paracelsus, Helmont, Basil, and others, yet I dare not say I could know the philosophers' matter. In the interim he drew from his breast pocket a neat ivory box, and out of it took three ponderous lumps of the stone, each about the size of a small walnut. They were transparent and of a pale brimstone color, whereto some scales of the crucible adhered when this most noble substance was melted. When I had greedily examined and handled the stone almost a quarter of an hour, and heard from the owner many rare secrets of its admirable effects in human and metallic bodies, also its other wonderful properties, I returned him this treasure of treasures, truly with a most sorrowful mind, like those who conquer themselves, yet, as was just, very thankfully and humbly.

"He asked me for a little piece of gold, and, pulling off his cloak, opened his vest, under which he had five pieces of gold. They were hanging to a green silk ribbon, and were of the size of breakfast plates. I was in great admiration, and desired to know where and how he obtained them. He answered, 'A foreigner, who dwelt some days in my house, said he was a lover of this science, and came to reveal it to me. He taught me various artsfirst, of ordinary stones and chrystals, to make rubies, chrysolites, sapphires, etc., much more valuable than those of the mine; and how in a quarter of an hour to make oxide of iron, one dose of which would infallibly cure the pestilential dysentery, or bloody flux; also how to make a metallic liquor to cure all kinds of dropsies, most certainly and in four days; as also a limpid, clear water, sweeter than honey, to which in two hours of itself, in hot sand, it would extract the tincture of garnets, corals, glasses, and such like.' He said more, which I Helvetius did not observe, my mind being occupied to understand how a noble juice could be drawn out of minerals to transmute metals. He told me his said master caused him to bring a glass of rain-water, and to put some silver leaf into it, which was dissolved therein within a quarter of an hour, like ice when heated. 'Presently he drank to me the half, and I pledged him the other half, which had not so much taste as sweet milk, but whereby, methought, I became very light-headed. I thereupon asked if this were a philosophical drink, and wherefore we drank this potion; but he replied, I ought not to be so curious.' By the said masters directions, a piece of a leaden pipe being melted, he took a little sulphureous powder out of his pocket, put a little of it on the point of a knife into the melted lead, and after a great blast of the bellows, in a short time he poured it on the red stones of the kitchen chimney. It proved most excellent pure gold, which the stranger said brought him into such trembling amazement that he could hardly speak; but his master encouraged him saying, 'Cut for thyself the sixteenth part of this as a memorial and give the rest away among the poor,' which the stranger did, distributing this alms, as he affirmed if my memory fail not, at the Church of Sparenda. 'At last,' said he, 'the generous foreigner taught me thoroughly this divine art.'

"As soon as his relation was finished, I asked my visitor to show me the effect of transmutation and so confirm my faith; but he declined it for that time in such a discreet manner that I was satisfied, he promising to come again in three weeks, to show me some curious arts in the fire, provided it were then lawful without prohibition. At the three weeks end he came, and invited me abroad for an hour or too. In our walk we discoursed of Nature's secrets, but he was very silent on the subject of the great elixir, gravely asserted that it was only to magnify the sweet fame and mercy of the most glorious God; that few men endeavoured to serve Him, and this he expressed as a pastor or minister of a church; but I recalled his attention, entreating him to show me the metallic mystery, desiring also that he would eat, drink, and lodge at my house, which I pressed, but he was of so fixed a determination that all my endeavours were frustrated. I could not forbear to tell him that I had a laboratory ready for an experiment, and that a promised favour was a kind of debt. 'Yes, true,' said he, 'but I promised to teach thee at my return, with this proviso, if it were not forbidden.'

"When I perceived that all this was in vain, I earnestly requested a small crumb of his powder, sufficient to transmute a few grains of lead to gold, and at last, out of his philosophical commiseration, he gave me as much as a turnip seed in size, saying, 'Receive this small parcel of the greatest treasure of the world, which truly few kings or princes have ever seen or known.' 'But,' I said, 'this perhaps will not transmute four grains of lead,' whereupon he bid me deliver it back to him, which, in hopes of a greater parcel, I did, but he, cutting half off with his nail, flung it into the fire, and gave me the rest wrapped neatly up in blue paper, saying, 'It is yet sufficient for thee.' I answered him, indeed with a most dejected countenance, 'Sir, what means this? The other being too little, you give me now less.'

"He told me to put into the crucible half an ounce of lead, for there ought to be no more lead put in than the medicine can transmute. I gave him great thanks for my diminished treasure, concentrated truly in the superlative degree, and put it charily up into my little box, saying I meant to try it the next day, nor would I reveal it to any. 'Not so, not so,' said he, 'for we ought to divulge all things to the children of art which may tend alone to the honour of God, that so they may live in the theosophical truth.' I now made a confession to him, that while the mass of his medicine was in my hands, I endeavoured to scrape away a little of it with my nail, and could not forbear; but scratched off so very little, that, it being picked from my nail, wrapped in paper, and projected on melted lead, I found no transmutation, but almost the whole mass sublimed, while the remainder was a glassy earth.

"At this unexpected account he immediately said, 'You are more dexterous to commit theft than to apply the medicine, for if you had only wrapped up the stolen prey in yellow wax, to preserve it from the fumes of the lead, it would have sunk to the bottom, and transmuted it to gold; but having cast it into the fumes, the violence of the vapour, partly by its sympathetic alliance, carried the medicine quite away.' I brought him the crucible, and he perceived a most beautiful saffron-like tincture sticking to the sides. He promised to come next morning at nine o'clock, to show me that this tincture would transmute the lead into gold. Having taken his leave, I impatiently awaited his return, but the next day he came not, nor ever since. He sent an excuse at half-past nine that morning, and promised to come at three in the afternoon, but I never heard of him since.

"I soon began to doubt the whole matter. Late that night my wife, who was a most curious student and inquirer after the art, came soliciting me to make an experiment of the little grain of the stone, to be assured of the truth. 'Unless this be done,' said she, 'I shall have no rest or sleep this night.' She being so earnest, I commanded a fire to be made, saying to myself, 'I fear, I fear indeed, this man hath deluded me.' My wife wrapped the said matter in wax, and I cut half an ounce of lead, and put it into a crucible in the fire. Being melted, my wife put in the medicine, made into a small pill with the wax, which presently made a hissing noise, and in a quarter of an hour the mass of lead was totally transmuted into the best and finest gold, which amazed us exceedingly. I ran with this aurified lead, being yet hot, to the goldsmith, who wondered at the fineness, and after a short trial by the test, said it was the most excellent gold in the world.

"The next day a rumour of this prodigy went about the Hague and spread abroad, so that many illustrious and learned persons gave me their friendly visits for its sake. We went to Mr. Brectel, a silversmith, who first mixed four parts of silver with one part of the gold, then he filled it, put aquafortis to it, dissolved the silver, and let the gold precipitate to the bottom; the solution being poured off and the calx of gold washed with water, then reduced and melted, it appeared excellent gold, and instead of a loss in weight, we found the gold was increased, and had transmuted a scruple of the silver into gold by its abounding tincture.

"Doubting whether the silver was now sufficiently separated from the gold, we mingled it with seven parts of antimony, which we melted and poured out into a cone, and blew off the regulus on a test, where we missed eight grains of our gold; but after we blew away the red of the antimony, or superfluous scoria, we found nine grains of gold for our eight grains missing, yet it was pale and silverlike but recovered its full colour afterwards, so that in the best proof of fire we lost nothing at all of this gold, but gained, as aforesaid. These tests I repeated four times and found it still alike, and the silver remaining out of the aquafortis was of the very best flexible silver that could be, so that in the total the said medicine or elixir had transmuted six drams and two scruples of the lead and silver into most pure gold."

Helvetius died at the Hague August 29, 1709.